My Phoneless 11-Year-Old Was Lost in Manhattan and Survived

I’m sticking to my principles on not getting smartphones for my tweens — even though my child got lost on the dark streets of New York City.

Comments: 244

  1. Teaching common sense is important regardless of whether or not a child has a smart phone. Kids learn about finding helpers and other moms in tricky situations but parents need to go a step further and teach what might seem obvious to adults but maybe not to kids who are kept on very short leashes. This child did a great job, perhaps because she had already problem solved for her phone less self.

  2. Mother is trying to hard to prove her point. This story could have ended really bad... Teach your kid how to use technology responsibly.

  3. @Al F ...nailed it. They problem is not the cell but irresponsible/dependence behavior with it. Better to teach them control than not deal with it at all. Do you let them use stove or microwave?

  4. @Ace so different. Kids don't get addicted to a stove or microwave. Unfortunately, this kind of technology is beyond parental "control". They are teenagers. Some of them have temperaments that are amenable to this kind of technology, some will become dependent. Mom knows that in a few years, she will have no say in what kind of technology they have or use-they'll need to because of school and work. But they at least were able to have their developmental years unfettered with the kinds of distractions and easy ways out of social and logistical problems that smart phones bring. People used to make fun of the family of kids I went to highschool with because they weren't allowed to watch TV. The kids were a little weird. But they went to Harvard and Yale, respectively, and are quite well adjusted.

  5. @Al F I agree that the writing is awful - too cute by half - but come on. EVERY story can end really badly. Is that the bubble within which you want to live your life? I can’t imagine a safer place for a kid who’s alone and needs help than New York City. Can you imagine New Yorkers NOT helping? I can’t.

  6. a smartphone with a map function would be a wiser choice. if a 16 y/o can drive a car, i think an 11 y/o can be trusted with a phone. Have faith in your kids to make intelligent phone usage choices with your guidance. Having a phone is no safety guarantee, but it can be a decent liferaft sometimes. Glad your daughter is safe (i wouldn't advocate walking into random apartment buildings.....Epstein-esque would stink). Glad too you're willing to get her a phone.

  7. @dw: The daughter didn't NEED a phone with a map function - she needed the brains she has, and the ability to ask a reasonable adult for help, just as she did with the doorman. And if you see Jeffrey Epstein as being behind every door - and especially if you think that's what all doormen in NYC are like - then I think you need some counseling.

  8. all it takes is one. I'd rather my daughter ask for help in a crowded Starbucks. Have a nice midnight central park run or do you need counseling?

  9. @dw: Sorry, anyone whose thought is that there's someone sinister & Epstein-esque possibly lurking EVERYWHERE in NYC is someone who is not dealing in the known reality of NYC. (Which, of course, is also why you'd mention a midnight Central Park run.) Yes, it only takes one - one good person out of the MILLIONS of GOOD people in NYC - to help a young girl. And THAT'S what did happen, not the nightmare/horror-movie scenario you are invoking. Anyone whose first thought is to try to scare others with unlikely possibilities is a person who could use a reality-check with a qualified professional.

  10. Making your kids feel excluded is way worse for them than whatever you think a phone will do to them.

  11. @Michael I think it has a lot to do with what other ways the parents are 'depriving' their children in middle and high school. When my son was 16 and working, he saved enough money to buy a TV for his bedroom. When he was told that in our house we had one TV in the den (to be shared by three people) and that TV did not belong in the bedroom -he said he could buy it anyway, all his friends had TV in their rooms, etc. My response that it would be dropped out the window to the pavement was met with howls of dismay. On his college graduation day he thanked me for not allowing him to have a TV in his bedroom. Kids may feel excluded or be excluded for many reasons. There are also good reasons for not following the crowd.

  12. @Michael: That is so wrong it's pathetic. If this is how you're raising your children, you are doing them a major disservice on many levels.

  13. @mary That may be, but making your kid stick out like s sore thumb so you can congratulate yourself on being a Better Parent Than Thou is not one of them. I assure you I have never gone back to my mother and thanked her for not letting me ride my bike outside of the yard until junior high because it kept me safe.

  14. Better idea: Designate one of your old smartphones the family emergency phone. If you don't have a landline anymore (many/most people don't), the kids can use the phone to reach you in case of an emergency at home when you're away, e.g., their elderly babysitter becomes unconscious while you and your spouse are having date night, etc. You can also give that phone to the kid you can't actually be with at some away-from-home function, such as swim practice.

  15. @Rupert Not having a landline is a big reason to have a cell phone for your kids. I'm going to have to make a decision about that soon.

  16. The kid did everything right, and guess what - the mom did too. This is what we all learned to do pre cell phones. Bravo mom - don't let the Tsk Tsk give them a computer in their pocket crowd get to you! Teaching independence and resilience is being thwarted by our kids and they are ending up in college not able to function because they are never given the chance to figure out situations for themselves. We do our world a great disservice this way.

  17. Navigating the real world: a basic skill of life, especially in the big city. Good job, mom and kid!

  18. It appears that the core of the justification to not get a smartphone is addictive distraction. This point is confirmed by the mom getting a flip phone for her child. This comment proves the lengths individuals will go to rationalize controversial behaviors in an attempt to avoid the true explanation and render the conduct consciously tolerable or deserving of admiration. A smartphone permits parents to rightly so, locate their child as long as the child is in possession of the device and parents can apply restrictions by monitoring and limiting screen time. Admittedly, I cannot determine if it’s intelligence or instinct that drove the child to go to a completely unknown building lobby to use the door-man’s phone (by no stretch of the imagination am I implying that this child is not intelligent). The true finesse of the art of parenting is the ability to extract the benefits of technology while instilling values in children. At the end of the day, we may just be postponing the inevitable, but why not instill values along the way? Technology is not the boogeyman and we should stop this self-deception and take the time to educate our children on its age appropriate uses. I am glad that this door-man was kind and helpful and take this opportunity to thank him.

  19. @AJ Parents can track where their child's phone is....not where their child is. And yes, technology that dominates, enthralls and surveils is the boogeyman.

  20. @AJ I read the whole comment and do not know whether you are praising or criticising the mother.

  21. As a mother and long time school nurse, I don't even know where to begin. I feel for these girls who feel left out bby not having technology and feeling powerless in case of an emergency. What if the child simply wants to touch base with her parents for a question or reassurance ? Does the benefit of the Scary Mommy feeling that she is winning a power struggle over allowing her kids to have a cell phone supersede her children feeling safe in a very large and unstable city ? And at night in the dark ? Does she not read the news ? What about the benefit of parents being able to locate their children simply to make sure that they have reached their destination ? I agree with the above comment that making your children feel excluded is way worse than whatever you feel a cell phone will do to them..these are often children who grow up to be teens that need to lie to get by in this technology and media based world.

  22. @Lisa -- Where do you see that the child felt powerless? She calmly went to a well lit apartment lobby and called her mother after waiting a while at Starbucks. None of that sounds particularly scary to me. I would suspect most of us parents of tweens and teens are 40+ (not all, most) and navigated the big bad world without any phone or device. I would worry about a young person who feels powerless or helpless without a gadget. How did anyone survive before the advent of google maps, find my friends, texting, and social media? Also, tracking software (find my friends etc) is super scary - way scarier to me than waiting for a confirmation phone call after a loved one makes it from Point A to Point B.

  23. @Lisa oh good lord. Her daughter was NOT powerless. She wasn't even afraid. She took care of it and this situation built her confidence. Your fear-based parenting is one reason we've raised a generation of anxious incompetent teens who have been taught by paranoid fearful parents that they're incompetent boobs. They're afraid because you are afraid. Stop being terrified and grow up. Micaela is teaching her kids to solve problems and be aware of their surroundings. You're teaching your kids that they are emotional cripples who can't be at all different from their friends and are too stupid to solve a problem. Have fun bailing them out for the rest of their lives.

  24. @Lisa: Are you kidding? You equate not having a cell phone as a child with growing up to be a teenage liar? And "feeling left out" is too horrible to tolerate? Please don't insult young people that way. As a female who survived to adulthood in NYC without a cell phone, there is so much wrong with your view of this that I don't even know where to begin! But I'll start with your decision to label NYC an "unstable city" - where did you get that from? Are you paranoid? I feel bad for anyone who is dependent on a cell phone - and I see these people all around me: they can't find an address without using the map on their phone or calling someone for help, even when LOOKING up and around would orient them. They *could* even ask another person on the street for directions - but in your view, that'd be too dangerous! The daughter in this story clearly DIDN'T feel "helpless" or "powerless" at all. In fact she was, by reason of how her parents have raised her, aware & alert & able to advocate for herself. "What if the child simply wants to touch base with her parents for a question or reassurance?" To me, that means the child is the sad product of helicopter parenting. I and many BILLIONS of people around the globe made it to adulthood without needing to phone mommy for reassurance. If we had questions, we asked them before we left the house OR we asked an adult who seemed like a reasonable choice, as the daughter in this story did with the doorman.

  25. I agree with holding off on smart phones and screens for as long as possible. I’ve worked with kids in the same age range and most did not have smart phones or screens. On the rare occasion we used iPads, the classroom was silent. But on the days we didn’t have screen time? They talked to each other. They played outside. They used their imagination with Lego’s, blocks, and art supplies. It’s important to preserve that. However, I was relieved to see in the end she compromised with a “retro” flip phone. I was an anxious kid. I hated the feeling of never knowing when mom’s car would finally pull up to the school (she was often late) Yes, people have organised school pick ups and schedule changes for years before cell phones. But technology brings a sense of comfort and safety for both parties in these type of scenarios. And giving them a cell phone doesn’t mean all other teachable moments or common sense practices are off the table. You can have both.

  26. @Anonymous As an anxious kid, you would have benefited from a phone. Other children, with different personalities, may benefit from not having a phone. Please don't generalize too much, even if you still tend to be anxious.

  27. @Anonymous - "I was an anxious kid. I hated the feeling of never knowing when mom’s car would finally pull up to the school (she was often late)" Yes, it might have provided comfort and a sense of security, but what would it have taught you about dealing with anxiety and insecurity as an adult when there was no one to call?

  28. Yes and yes!! I’m so glad she was safe! Great advice for parents!

  29. As a former educator of high school students, I was continually surprised to discover that basic, supposedly common sense customs were no longer intuitively understood and practiced by my students who came of age during the era of the smart phone. Many mornings and lunch hours, alone in my fully lit classroom, no one inside visible thru the window in the door, students would simply turn the knob to my classroom door, discover it locked (as it always is, a safety precaution in today’s world) and simply walk away. They never thought to knock on the door and call my name. I realized that in their world, every arrival to a meetup was announced via text. “I’m outside,” or “Okay, here.” I was always available, yet they never thought to knock. How did this come to be? What am I missing here?

  30. @Myraelen Even more remarkable that, after this happened repeatedly, the student's teacher never thought to put a sign on the door saying "Door Kept Locked for Security. Feel free to knock!"

  31. maybe they were being polite and didn't want to disturb you. piling on teenagers and students sometimes is too easy. perhaps give them the benefit of the doubt.

  32. I agree with the above comment. Give them some benefits of the doubt. They could’ve thought you locked the door for a reason and didn’t want to disturb you. Otherwise why would you lock your door when you knew students would want to see you anyway?

  33. It is irresponsible in this day and age to have a middle schooler walking alone without a flip phone to summon help. I am glad your kid had a level head and only encountered good guys. I manage many of the same logistics you mention and the kids feel empowered with the phone to get support when they need it. They also solve some logistical problems on their own, but why deprive them of such a powerful tool?

  34. @Busybody Hi Karen! You sound exactly like the kind of people who buzz around their children like a helicopter.

  35. @Busybody -- Why is it irresponsible for a middle schooler to walk around without a phone? This is such a strange thing to say. It's as if you and others have forgotten that carrying a cellphone has only been commonplace, if that, during this century. I didn't have one until 2010!

  36. I agree with you. More virtue signaling going on here than common sense? Mix ups happen. A basic phone has none of the disadvantages of a smart phone, while at the same time offering an emergency connection to a child’s key adults. I don’t see why a kid can’t learn independence and resourcefulness while also having the practical reassurance of a phone. I think this article makes a false argument that it’s one or the other. My son was the first kid in his 6th grade class to get a phone because we wanted him to be able to wander in the woods where we live but also able to contact us should the need arise. This is because we had bears and he had in fact gotten in between a sow and her cubs once.

  37. When I was 11, I carried a dime in my loafers or pocket so I could use it to make a phone call in case of an emergency. Where exactly is one to find a pay phone in this day and age? I remember sitting in my car as a child while my father walked off to find help when our car broke down. We have technology available to keep ourselves safe and in touch. There are also phones that limit options available to users. One extreme is no better than the other. My kids had flip phones and chose to use them exclusively until they were in their early twenties.

  38. @Maia Brumberg-Kraus I think flip phones are a pain to text with. Texting seems to be a dominant way of teens and adults communicating these days. PS: When I initially had a cell phone, I couldn't understand why the Europeans were using text. It unhooks you from a distracting verbal conversation, and it's more private.

  39. @Peter Lindner And it was cheaper, whereas actually calling was limited and expensive. No wonder everyone got hooked on texting.

  40. I used a flip phone until 2016. I found it easier to text with because you could feel the buttons and didn’t need to be laser-focused on the screen.

  41. I'm not sure why the device has to be screen less. An old/extra iphone without a cellular connection could receive texts and emails as long as it's connected to wifi, like the wifi at Starbucks.

  42. Why does it have to have a screen?

  43. Thank you, Micaela Birmingham and your husband, for raising your daughters with care, communication, and a lot of common sense! It's rare to find parents who can draw a line in the sand, as with the issue of cell phones, and then maintain that boundary as you and your husband have done - and in the process, your daughters are BETTER equipped to handle the world, and they seem to feel quite secure about engaging with everyday life. Your trust in them is well-placed, and that gives them the confidence to know they don't need to go along with the crowd on this or other issues. This is all very much to the credit of ALL of you, as a family. I only wish there were more parents like you.

  44. You're doing a great job! All my kids got to the end of high school with no smartphone, only a flip phone. You will be so glad you stuck to this policy. And you will notice the difference in your kids, starting about 10th grade. Theory of mind will emerge earlier than their smartphone obsessed peers. Your kids will just be happier, more at home in their own skin, more independent. All my kids, (the youngest is 18 so we are just out of high school) are so glad we had this family policy. Really. Still astonishes me that I got away with it. They regard it as the most influential of all our parenting practices in the family. They all have smartphones now. And yes, we had kids who got lost in middle/high school without a smartphone and they did exactly what your daughter did. Kids' are so resourceful and New Yorkers are wonderful about helping a kid. My kids said their policy was to ask a friendly looking mom who had kids if they could call me. It always worked. And guess what you get when your kid takes the subway without a smartphone? Just really great human interest stories that your kids witness, and really pay attention to on the subway coming up at the dinner table. The things my kids noticed about people on the subway... Really great stories. My kids also had lovely friends with smartphones and their friends parents were very vigilant about the phones...so it is possible to raise a kid sensibly with a smartphone...but I do think it is getting harder and harder.

  45. Any consideration for the babysitter trying to help? Not only was she inconvenienced at least an extra 45 minutes but she had to deal with the stress and anxiety of not knowing where the kid was for which she was now responsible. So the author gets to feel superior at the expense of others.

  46. @D Wow, what a negative take on the entire read. The mom was self-congratulating herself in a funny way - clearly mocking herself for feeling smug about her organizational/logistic skills. I am sure the mom apologized profusely to the sitter. Why would you assume otherwise?

  47. @D Well, it's not like the babysitter is a real person, right?

  48. @D Everyone's a critic. Good grief.

  49. I think that real concern here is having your 11 year old wandering NYC alone.

  50. @Chelsea -- Walking two blocks from swim practice to Starbucks isn't exactly wandering. And, to be honest, I have generally felt more comfortable "wandering" around urban areas where the odds of finding a helpful, kind person are pretty high.

  51. @Chelsea Seriously? Look outside any NYC middle school around 2:30pm and you will see 11 year olds "wandering" alone -- to the bus stop, to home, to friends houses. Kids are not as helpless or dumb as we tend to view them.

  52. I think you should be very proud of yourself for raising an 11 year old who knew how to get herself out of a sticky situation and evaluate the situation. I knew you'd get criticized from the scaredy cat mothers out there who think their children are too stupid to figure out a solution. I worry about the future. We're raising cripples.

  53. Get her a Gizmo!

  54. Our kids use "classic phones" (aka "dumb phones" or flip phones) until they're 14. Works for us too...

  55. Off topic. Is there any modern city on Earth where a young person of this age could reasonably and safely use the public transportation system to get home or to a friend's home? Tokyo? Helsinki? Berlin? London? Montreal?

  56. @David Hoffman coolpad - I watch it daily in NYC. Young kids on the Subway alone or with other kids. It worries me, but then I remember that I did it too at that age and in a far more dangerous era. I think it comes down to parenting and confidence. Certainly not for all kids.

  57. @David Hoffman coolpad Yes.in fact, as a New Yorker, I'm completely befuddled that this story was published. There's literally 200,000 New York City middle-schoolers who ride the train solo, every single day. I mean, the NYC Transit allows children above the age of 8 permission to use the system alone and the Department of Education gives free metro cards to children as young as second graders, to commute by themselves. Roughly 0 of these young commuters we see every single day, ever have a problem or have their mom writ a NY Times piece about it. I'm loving reading these comments about how exceptional this writer's kid is.

  58. @David Hoffman coolpad I mean... Seattle and several of the suburbs. You can walk and/or ride. It's not that hard, and our public transport is way behind that of many cities on the East Coast.

  59. Kudos for teaching your daughter how to navigate life without a phone.....worked for decades before!

  60. @Fancy Francie "Kudos for teaching your daughter how to navigate life without a phone.....worked for decades before!" Actually, the kid had to borrow a phone from the doorman.

  61. @Michael Yes, you're right. I don't know why more people don't comment on that--and in a very expensive building too. I think the daughter needs a transit farecard and a set of housekeys. Comment on the flip phones: I am guessing these are older 3G models. The newer major-carrier flip phones all connect to the real Internet, although it can be turned off.

  62. I had a similar situation when my daughter was around 9. I had dropped her off for a church event, but I didn't know the event had been cancelled. Because I was illegally parked, I drove off as she headed for the door. Well, the church was all locked up, but I drove off. She didn't have a phone yet (I held off until middle school). She had the common sense to go next door to the florist. We had visited the florist in the past, so she sorta knew the people and they her. But, the florist was closed. So, she went a little further down the street passing various options until she got to the local CVS. She then decided they were the most trustworthy option and asked to use their phone. She first called mom who looked at the caller ID that said CVS and let it go to voicemail. She then called me (yes, she had memorized both our cellphone numbers). I was wondering why CVS was calling my cellphone, but answered the phone anyway. Only 5 minutes or so had elapsed since I had dropped her off. I go back to pick her up and end of story. Of course, besides the "Everyone else has an iphone!" reason (they all didn't, include her best friend), she'd rub that situation in my face as well. "Remember when you abandoned me in town? Would have been better if I had a cellpphone." I did get the iphone eventually, because I wanted GPS tracking. I don't think any "dumb" phones back then had that capability.

  63. I think an 11 year old doesn't need a smartphone, but a "dumb" phone with no internet connection such as a flip phone is a good idea. In "the old days", we had pay phones everywhere, but no more, so for kids to call home it's a lot harder without a phone. My kids are 13 and 15 and perfectly happy with their "dumb phones", they can call anytime and they can text with parents and friends. Really all they need.

  64. @V Exactly correct. The world has changed since the days of pay phones, and sending a kid out with no means of communication whatsoever is not smart. Just because everything turned out OK this time doesn't mean it will next time.

  65. @V Sure, payphones are mostly a thing of the past, but phones have actually gotten far more ubiquitous than they were when we were kids. As long as a kid knows how to find an appropriate grown-up to ask for help (we recommend that our kids find a mom or dad, since doormen aren't common where we live), they should never have any difficulty finding a way to contact their parents.

  66. Good job, mom. People got along fine without smartphones for many years. You are raising a competent kid who pays attention to the world around her, just like we used to do before we became attached to these devices.

  67. This all-or-nothing approach is ridiculous. My son has a phone with Wikipedia, Google Maps, Kindle and a dozen other educational and productivity apps. No games. No social media. IM with family only. He uses it responsibility and is in no way addicted to it. You're missing an opportunity to provide your children with a window to the world and valuable preparation for their futures.

  68. But if the kid had a phone, mom would miss the opportunity to be sanctimonious! Goodness me.

  69. @Barry I am a teacher and one of the things my students love to brag about is how they got around all those limitations their parents set on their phones. On the plus side, they are aware that their attention spans are terrible. They are aware that they are addicted and that it's a problem. If the author's children have laptops, they have the 'window on the world' you mention just not in their pockets 24/7 so that there's an alternative to the zombie addiction that I see in class. Learning to use a smart phone takes about 6 minutes so they can 'prepare for their futures' pretty quickly at some later date. Meanwhile some of my students can't concentrate long enough to read a page.

  70. That’s what you think. Kids do tech things behind your back to keep up with the other kids. You’ll never know.

  71. Clearly the child was taught well by her parents and she handled the situation perfectly. The child didn’t freak out because she didn’t have a phone. Good on you mom and daughter.

  72. I might be missing something here but it seems like the entire situation could’ve been avoided if the sitter met up with her daughter at the pool instead of at Starbucks?

  73. @Ang The sitter was called at the last minute and on her way to pick up the child of the other family so meeting in the middle was the idea.

  74. @Ang -sometimes pools close and kids have to leave.

  75. It’s a sad state of affairs when people are upset that a mother is teaching her child how to be self reliant. There was a time when smart phones didn’t exist. Remember when people actually spoke? And you had to find your way from point A to point B? Kudos to this mom for teaching her child that she has a brain and the skills to figure things out on her own. Maybe we’d be better off if we stopped replacing our brains with smart phones. Just a thought!

  76. And don’t they get defensive when you point it out. Because Parents are addicted to phones. I went through this in the 90’s when I raised my children without TV for several years. Didn’t the other moms get defensive if I talked about it. “MY children JUST watch TV a little”. Or “they could learn so Much from Animal Planet”. Not as much as if they spent the same amount of time Reading about animals. I could almost write their script I heard it so often. Finally I just quit saying it. It’s all just rationalization to make themselves feel better about what they are doing for their own convenience. Parking kids in front of the tv/phone.

  77. @Alison I agree. The only reason for a flip phone is that the rise of cell phones has been met with a severe reduction in the number of pay phones on the street.

  78. @Alison Good or bad, whatever, but it's not self-reliance. The girl has to borrow one of those horrible phones wherever she goes in order to contact her parents. And she *couldn't* find her way from point A to B — if she could, she wouldn't have to head to the Starbucks to have another person watch over her. You know, these smartphones have maps. With turn-by-turn navigation, even. Maybe if the daughter had one of those, she could have successfully figured out how to get to her mom. Maybe we'd be better off if we accepted technology for both its limitations and uses. Just a thought, though...

  79. I agree with your parenting style and it reminded me of one of my favorite NewYorker cartoons. A couple is sitting having coffee-the caption reads. “Are we in this Starbucks or the one down the street?”.

  80. deep breath---this has happened 1000's of times in NYC (i was one of those children) from the 1600's to the 1990's---the people that can/will assist are endless---police person/shop owner/cab driver/ bus driver---children have ALWAYS been MUCH more resourceful than we give them credit for :)

  81. @arturo This turned out because they were in NYC, actually, where people expect kids to be independent thinking enough to know what to do. There are snippy little towns in America where whomever the little girl found and asked to use the phone would have called child protective services or the cops because they would say the parent was a bad parent. Doormen are actually terrific trustworthy people who know how to handle many unexpected incidents including lost children.

  82. @arturo When I first visited NYC in the 1980’s I was intimidated myself by the Big Apple and then shocked to see eleven year olds traveling about alone. When I spoke of this to family they pointed out that at that same age I was trusted to go wandering miles across the countryside and in the swamp with a .22 rifle alone with no one even knowing where I was at. The point is that kids are resourceful and can be taught to be safe in whatever environment they are raised in.

  83. I have a 13 an 11 year old with no phones (and a 6 year old). I sometimes wonder about my decision, but they are both just fine - they both have friends and are invited over to other kids' houses all the time so I don't think it is a social/exclusion problem yet. I applaud the Birminghams because it must be tough to have kids in NY and not give them phones. It is tough where I live and I do second guess my decision sometimes.

  84. I cannot like this enough - probably because it reflects my own decision-making as a parent. We allowed our girls to walk to/from school starting at age 9. The walk is over a mile, on sidewalks, and includes a crossing guard. We are within spitting distance of DC, so not quite NYC but also not Mayberry. And neighbor after neighbor after friend said my girls needed phones. No. A phone will not make them safer. Acquiring street smarts, walking "aware", knowing where to go for help etc. That makes them safe. My eldest got a phone at age 12 and my youngest is waiting breathlessly for her phone. I only wish we had held off longer.

  85. Thanks for this great post! Loved it! SO grateful for this message being spread. I wanted to share with Micaela that there are thankfully now some great smartphone alternatives on the market - including some that are even cooler than flip phones but still provide the limitations! Here are some options: https://www.westartnow.org/blog/2019/12/11/christmas-list-smartphone-alternatives that there are some

  86. @Tracy Thanks for the suggestions!

  87. Amen Mom. As an educator, I’m tired of seeing my students addicted to their devices. The youth of today need to learn how to speak not text. Good job mama Birmingham.

  88. @Laura Texting requires excellent communication skills as well. It teaches everyone children as well as adults how to communicate in a clear and concise way and get to the point. It also saves time and eliminates a lot of useless chitchat especially in transactional business communications.

  89. @old lady cook what this teacher is referring to is the ability to communicate with a person face-to-face; something that is lost if your face is buried in a phone.

  90. Love this! High five from another anti-smartphone mom. Kids can survive and are capable of a childhood free of smartphones!

  91. Anti-Phone or anti-Smartphone? Data and apps being the difference.

  92. Would be a good idea if your kids knew how to navigate without a smartphone or flip phone even if they have a phone. What if they lost it?

  93. joyinbooks-No.CA I grew up in NYC in the late 50's and 60's, no cell phones, what it taught me was self reliance and most important RESOURCEFULNESS. Sure there were weirdos on the subway, and not sure about how to locate addresses once i emerged yup no GPS, but i survived very well thank you and i believe it had equipped me to travel abroad at a relatively young age. I'd do the same for my pre-teens and let them learn from experience as it can be confidence building.

  94. To each their own. Our kids 17 and 14 get a flip phone when they start driving. And can buy their own smartphones if they want when they are 18. They each have their own computers at home and each have portable tablets that they’ve been trained to use responsibly ( if spouse or I find a tablet on the floor or in other banned places they lose it for specified amount of time ). So far our plan of not raising zombies is going well. If the situation changes then so will we as needed. I feel fortunate both children are happy to spend time outside than playing games inside on a screen. I’m sitting here about to hit the submit button and thinking of my sisters kids who get smartphones at age 12 and I can’t help but think “ Of course, I’d want them to have something I could track as well!” Simply because while they are smart kids they seem to lack common sense. The youngest has no problem just walking away from whatever group she’s in. It’s maddening. So yeah. To each their own.

  95. @Mika There is a lot to be said for "To each their own." instead of judging others.

  96. When my youngest brother was 7 years old, there was a mix-up at home and he was not picked up from his elementary school, which was 15-20 mins away by car. My father was out of town and my mother was at work. It was my oldest sisters, then 16 and 15, who were in charge of taking care of their 3 younger siblings when my parents weren't around. Before anyone realized my brother was missing, he walked in through the front door. When asked how he made his way home, he nonchalantly said he took a taxi. In disbelief, we, his neglectful older sisters, pressed him for how he managed this. He simply said that he grew tired of waiting for one of us, so he hailed a taxi cab and gave the driver our home address, which he had been taught to memorize along with the home phone number. When we went outside to pay and thank the taxi driver, he was no longer there. He had already driven away. He had driven my brother home knowing he wasn't going to be reimbursed. (We were thinking the primary reason he helped my brother was he had children of his own.) While this story raises many questions and concerns, especially how this could've gone very wrong, etc., with the proper tools and teaching, children as young as seven can be surprisingly resourceful.

  97. @maya Exactly. Children should memorize their address and their parents' phone numbers. They should also know their parents' names, not just Mom and Dad. NYC parents who bring their children on subways and buses should also instruct their children what to do if they become separated from parents while in transit. Knowing the subway and bus map and how to get home are helpful as well.

  98. @maya Cool story, except that it is actually illegal for taxi drivers to pick up unaccompanied minors. For a reason.

  99. Wonderful opportunity for the child to step up and figure out how to keep herself safe. I would not buy her a flip phone. She clearly knows how to find a phone and get in touch. I am a mom too, and I would be scared if my kid got lost, but let's face it - Midtown is busy but swarming with police and people who will help if asked. Putting parental anxiety first can't be the priority of parenting.

  100. You should get her a Light Phone! It is modern but simple, which sounds like what you are needing. Your child seems to have great critical thinking skills, probably due to your decisions about smartphones.

  101. @Elizabeth I think this is an example of correlation, not causation.

  102. Smart phones is the better way to go. I recently spoke with a Mom who has given her small children I phones. She can tract them on her phone and she knows where they are at all times during the day when they are not with her. It is very useful safety as well as emergency situations. There is nothing wrong with a flip phone we all had them for years but it is great to take advantage of technology as it becomes available to us. I did not even have a computer until 2004. They used to call me Wilma Flintstone. A five year old kid can still blow me out of the water but I love my devices. They are a window on the world. I never leave home without my phone , not so much to talk to people and not miss calls but to be safe if something happens to me. Flip phone works too but this deliberate embrace seems kind of silly to me.

  103. @old lady cook - I dunno. I would have hated it as a kid to have known that my mom or dad was tracking me on their phone. I actually always told them where I was going, but, still.... Being tracked is a little too much oversight.

  104. Far too many disadvantages to smartphones. Keep them reading and developing critical thinking skills. That is what will serve them well.

  105. @Annie As long as the kids can track mom and dad I think its totally fair. Which we do.

  106. Sure points to the critical importance of having your children, and yourself, memorize phone numbers. We are all way too dependent on autodial. Batteries run down, phones get lost.

  107. @Ellen Sloane - I don't understand auto dial for numbers you call frequently. I want those numbers in my head so I have them with me whether or not my phone is with me and working or it isn't. The only numbers I have in my phones are the ones that I call infrequently and that I have no real reason to memorize.

  108. I hope that at least you thanked the doorman!

  109. Why didn’t the mother arrange to have the babysitter meet her daughter at the pool, rather than at Starbucks? Was the pool building closing?

  110. I am also against a smartphone for young kids but we got my son (8) a Gizmo watch after he fell off his bike while riding it around the neighborhood and was accompanied home by a kindly neighbor (in his shock, he couldn't remember our phone numbers, though someone did offer to call us). This is a good phone-only option--though it also has a tracking option if that's of interest.

  111. @Laura Alas, the security on those phones is very poor, so it may not only be you who is tracking your son. An report by a Norwegian consumer protection body found that "the devices have flaws which could allow a potential attacker to take control of the apps, thus gaining access to children’s real-time and historical location and personal details, as well as even enabling them to contact the children directly, all without the parents’ knowledge. Additionally, several of the devices transmit personal data to servers located in North America and East Asia, in some cases without any encryption in place."

  112. @Laura when your son is ready for the next level, we got our 13 year old daughter a Gabb phone. I love it. Can call and text only, and it looks like a smartphone, but no wifi on it at all. Genius.

  113. I agree with the author. My son didn't get a phone until 14, and my 10 year-old will have to wait two more years. We've had stories like the author's - not so dramatic, but equally happy endings. The problems with saying "give them a phone and teach them to use it responsibly" are: (1) they truly do not develop these resiliency skills if they have a ready crutch. The phone simply solves problems for them. (2) "using phones responsibly" is not simply something that good parents can teach their good kids. These devises are designed to be deeply addictive. The tech companies have a dog in this fight too, over how and when kids use their phones, and their dog is much much bigger than ours. The analogy is not with "teaching kids to use the oven" - it's with teaching kids responsible alcohol use. Yes, they need to learn eventually but not at age 12.

  114. Sorry, I meant my *12 year old* will be waiting two more years.

  115. What I especially liked was thast you taught your daughter the basics of how to "scope" out a safe person. This is not always reliable as really bad people can conduct themselves as very well intentioned caring people. But she knew enough to go to a secure doorman building, she hopefully knew CCTV was in place also. And the BEST part, the doorman knew your daughter was lost and needed help. And he extended his hand. Sadly there are not that many good people around anymore.

  116. @Per Axel "Sadly there are not that many good people around anymore." I think that is what people have been saying every century, and there's not a word of truth in it.

  117. "In 2004, Carolina Izquierdo, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, spent several months with the Matsigenka, a tribe of about twelve thousand people who live in the Peruvian Amazon. ... At one point, Izquierdo decided to accompany a local family on an expedition down the Urubamba River [to gather kapashi leaves]... "A member of another family, Yanira, asked if she could come along. Izquierdo and the others spent five days on the river. Although Yanira had no clear role in the group, she quickly found ways to make herself useful. Twice a day, she swept the sand off the sleeping mats, and she helped stack the kapashi leaves for transport back to the village. In the evening, she fished for crustaceans, which she cleaned, boiled, and served to the others. Calm and self-possessed, Yanira “asked for nothing,” Izquierdo later recalled. The girl’s behavior made a strong impression on the anthropologist because at the time of the trip Yanira was just six years old..." [From "Spoiled Rotten" by E. Kolbert in the New Yorker (2012).]

  118. @Hockey Guy if i could repost this a thousand times to all the scared helicopter parent posts, i would. children are as resourceful as we train them to be.

  119. Yes but why would she deliberately create irrational anxiety by forcing a group watching if the absurd movie Taken? Talk about stoking fear and making those competent kids feel helpless and powerless.

  120. @John Kelsey It's a joke.

  121. @John Kelsey I live in Florida and frequent the beach. I hear the Jaws theme in my head every time I am in the water. Movies are powerful despite being fairly inaccurate. And, John, I think she was making a joke.

  122. @John Kelsey I agree.

  123. My 11 year old got separated from me and his grandmother at the Chicago Auto Show. Grandma was near hysterical while I told her he was resourceful. He was, he rode 2 city buses after explaining to each driver why he had no bus fare. He beat us home.

  124. LOL "dark streets of NYC" is just... not true. That city is lit up like a comet.

  125. @Jonathan Yes, it is true. The whole city is not Times Square. There are plenty of dark streets in many areas. And the subway stations can be quite empty at non-peak hours--I know having come within an inch of being assaulted in one. Give your kid a phone.

  126. @theresa, yes, even the streets right off Times Square are dark at night. New York is bright from above, not necessarily from below.

  127. why couldn't the kid have just taken the train home?

  128. @Kel -- Because nobody was home to receive her, and mother was in hospital for unknown period of time, possibly overnight.

  129. If they didn’t have keys, that may have been a problem.

  130. Wow. Great Mom! I wish we could have done the same for our son, now in 7th grade, but he needs a phone for school - his schedule and grades are posted via an app (which we can also access), and his class has an actyve group app that is not only for nonsense.

  131. @kc Bad school. (P.S. I have no ability to judge. I'm illustrating that personal reactions do not make for good advice.)

  132. Children ten years and up should be equipped with enough money for a taxi and a subway card. They should be instructed to seek out a police officer if they are lost or fearful. Parents (probably mom) should take child out for practice runs on subway/bus navigation. A flip rather than a smartphone is also a good idea. The child at that age should have developed sufficient navigational skills not to require GPS.

  133. Why “probably mom”?

  134. @scott why “probably mom”?

  135. I think it's so important to teach children to be resourceful and to think! As the writer said, instead of sitting in Starbucks with her nose in a screen, her daughter was assessing the likely reliability of adults around her and working out how to deal with her situation. Kudos to this family!

  136. I love this, and I’m with you! No smartphones needed until at least 8th grade (and even though it’s not needed for crying out loud). 

  137. Depends what the child is doing. If navigating a city solo, I hardly think a phone is the biggest danger, or that it is wise to withhold. The younger the child, the less experience that child has to draw upon in case of problems. When I was a kid, I could at least find a pay phone — now, there are very few.

  138. I was born in the Bronx and rode the alone on the subway to Coney Island; Yankee Stadium; Shea Stadium etc., before 11 years-old and decades before mobile phones. Today I wish I could silence the cell phones of rude adults even older than I am. You are right. Cell phones are for marketing and consumerism, and have little to do with communication or learning how to become an adult.

  139. My children grew up before smart phones existed and they did fine. Though I think the loss of public telephones, which allowed me as a child to always have a means of communication on any street corner makes it harder than it used to be to get around. Any New York City child with a dime could call home in the 1970s. So maybe a flip phone that would allow for basic communication is not really much different than readily accessible pay phones, which every child of my era used.

  140. I agree with the author that parents need to foster confidence and independence in their children so they can navigate the world on their own. I disagree that withholding a cell phone is the only or best way to achieve that goal.

  141. @Amanda ... and did the author actually state that?

  142. There's an assumption here that if a child has a smartphone, all resourcefulness will go out the window, that they'll turn into a clueless zombie. It's great that resourcefulness was taught to this child, as it should be, but it could still be learned even if the child has a smartphone. And all these comments harkening back to the good old days...ok boomer.

  143. @RR Eh, I don't think that's the assumption. I think the writer is saying, look, you say they "need" a phone for security, but the world is really not as awful as it's made out to be, and they'll be fine. Therefore, it's okay to forego the distraction machine. We have phones because we don't have a home phone. But half the time they're out of battery and the kids use public services (library, school, etc.) anyway.

  144. Except, Mr Condescending, in this case it’s evidence, not reminiscence. Before smartphones existed - not long ago - kids managed. Ergo, they don’t actually need them now … no matter how much helicopter parents and whining kids say they need them.

  145. @RR I agree, resourceful vs smartphone is a false choice

  146. Spent several childhood summers going with my dad to his data-processing company in the Mid-Wilshire district of LA and being left in the care of the programmers in the mainframe room. After I bored of playing on the keypunch machine, I’d inform them I was going to the restroom or snack bar several floors away and embark on exploratory adventures that would span the floors of that fabulous Welton Becket high-rise or the blocks surrounding it. I was a precocious, hyper-aware, and ever-curious girl of 9 or 10 with no smartphone and the only computer in my life being the IBM 360 mainframe that powered my father’s business. I continued that sense of analog adventure well into the ‘90s, before finally getting a cellphone in ‘00, in cross-country road trips with nothing more than a North American atlas, a AAA roadside service card, several rolls of dimes for pay phones, and a book of postcard postage stamps my dad always gave me to remind me to send a few to my parents along the way. Kids and adults don’t need smartphones though they are handy and I love mine. However, the best things my parents gave me were education, talks about dealing with the world, trips to different places, and the freedom to explore the world on my own, untethered (though they didn’t always know it). I’d never trade my lightly to un-supervised ‘70s childhood summers; it made me the strong, independent, and still curious explorer I am today.

  147. @left coast finch Thanks for the Welton Becket shout out! He should be better known.

  148. It’s 1949 I’m 10 years old andive just traveled by myself from Jersey walked to the D train on my way to the dentist. I’ve made this trip before, count three stops, get off, cross Madison Avenue and walk a few feet to the office. But I realize something is not right. Three stops and not my station. I stay on til the last stop , South Ferry. I get off find a motor man, tell him problem and he takes me by the hand gets me to my stop and waves goodbye. I never tell my parents. There were no cell phones. Kids are resourceful.

  149. Back in the 80s, I was on a Cub Scout trip when I got separated from the group at a water park. I was maybe 8. I looked everywhere for our chaperones before asking someone who worked there where they were. They had already left without me. I asked where the offices were. I went there and talked to a manager who let me use their phone. It ended up being fine. I got a bad sunburn and I have had many nightmares about being lost, but that’s it.

  150. @Ruth Jordan Or were resourceful, before we infantilized them.

  151. That was the simple version of my story. Truth is, it was in a summer camp for scouts with tons of kids who traveled to the water park on school buses, which explains how they were able to leave without me. Also, there were small groups of us younger kids assigned to be chaperoned by 12-13 year olds. Big mistake. The first thing our group chaperone did was ditch us and say take care of yourselves. I spent the whole day looking for that kid. And it has definitely affected me. I have had so many dreams about being lost and needing to find someone/something that it’s ridiculous. My parents strongly considered suing the Scouts, but I didn’t want to do that.

  152. Impressive. Both you and your daughter handled this admirably. I hope you went by to meet and personally thank the doorman. Definitely another hero in this story.

  153. @person Puuulleeese, that's your definition of a definite hero. Simple human kindness done millions of time just in that city alone, keep this small story in perspective.

  154. Great story. What a weird world we live in...this shouldn't be newsworthy! A rather ordinary moment in a science fiction world.

  155. Someday the writer will figure out that the phones are for the parent's benefit more than the child's.

  156. A flip phone most certainly is a convenience for parents. A smart phone is a whole other thing entirely that morphs into nonstop distraction for kids. I applaud the writer.

  157. I’m glad it turned out well. Most of the time it does. But for that one occasion you wish they had it, it is needed. This isn’t a virtue contest. It’s a child’s safety.

  158. I’ve had to use my phone for 911 calls while waiting for urban transport. Once for being harassed by a drunk person and another time while witnessing a beating. Children in an urban setting need a safety line phone. Trust your children and use limits if you need to but don’t just wish for the best. Unfortunately that’s not the society we live in.

  159. @Sal What are you talking about? I was a kid and teen in NYC and my single mother worked 60 miles away in New Jersey. I called her from the reception areas when I arrived at my after school activities. She would call if she was going to be late to pick me up. There are police officers, transit officers, and municipal employees on every corner in Manhattan. I have real trouble seeing how this could have ended badly because the kid didn't have a phone.

  160. @Sal Reducing the peer dependency fostered by 24/7 communication is also a safety issue.

  161. I have three young adults 25, 23, 20. They didn't get a phone until they turned 18. Which was when they could pay the bill. They went on school field trips, my son went to Washington D.C. twice in 11th and 12th grades. I felt fine because the teachers had phones. As adults my children think that it was best idea. Mind you, I said now not then. They appreciate the time that I spent actually listening to them and not glued to my phone. You're absolutely right,"...devices don't make our children safer, we do."

  162. @Southern Peach Interesting that your decision was based on whether the children could pay. Why do parenting decisions depend on 'the bottom line'? Is money the only issue here?

  163. @Janet Responsiblity is the motivation. My children got money for grades. I noticed that they were wary of spending the money and when they bought something they took care of it. But if money was the issue, so what? They followed my rules and all three of them were active in extracurricular activities. Today, my kids work and go to school. I'd say my rearing worked out. Wouldn't you?

  164. I like that you mention paying the bill! I existed before the iPhone and I can tell you, there is No Way my blue-collar Italian father would have shelled out to put a hundreds-of-dollars-a-pop device in my school-age hands so I could play games and use Snapchat and Instagram (and disseminate duckface photos). No way.

  165. The article refers to delaying a smartphone (which I understand) but it sounds like all or nothing. A flip phone is a phone and has the uses that are referenced as necessary here(calling the sitter, getting a hold of a parent). I hear parents often conflate smartphones as the only phone options: "I got a smartphone so my child can call me in an emergency." Apples and oranges, smartphone and flip.

  166. @Alexis Most smartphones have good lockdown options. Just because your kid has one, doesn't mean they have apps. Reliable texting is extremely useful when delivering addresses, times, or other critical info -- better than voice. My son has an iphone, all he can do is text, check the weather, and read books on Kindle and the nytimes. And Life360 so all the family members can check on each other. Just because you have a phone, doesn't mean total access to social media and the internet.

  167. @Alexis Indeed, Alexis, but acknowledging this simple but significant distinction would prevent some readers from indulging in baseless fantasies about how much better the world and its people were decades ago as compared to today. I guess “OK, boomer,” really is a thing.

  168. When I was about 12, I somehow wound up on an A train instead of a D when heading home to the Bronx. I figured it’d be okay because the A goes to 207th St. and the D goes to 205th, which I thought were 2 blocks apart; didn’t realize west and east! I had to ask around until someone put me on the right crosstown bus - got home at least an hour later than I was expected, and my mother wasn’t angry when I explained! This was obviously decades before cellphones and she just said she was proud of me for figuring it out.

  169. Before we got a phone for our son, we made our own version of a laminated identification card for him that was always in his pocket (of course boys clothes all have pockets). His picture, our address and phone numbers, health insurance information and separate emergency contact person and number. For him and his carpool classmates who became public transportation buddies, we had an urban skills day where we had fun but also talked about places they could find someone if they needed a helper. For example stores and large hotels that hire security people can be a resource if a police person is not in evidence. That’s a resource depending on your city and neighborhood. And let’s be frank, some kids by gender, race and nationality are going to face different challenges of being vulnerable to harassment or figuring how to approach people for assistance.

  170. I am truly grateful to parents who will share honest stories so that we can all learn from each other’s experiences, whatever choices we make for our kids.

  171. Word of advice from a non-parent, but first responder. Tell your kids, smartphone-d or not, if they’re ever in trouble regardless of kind, go to a firehouse or ambulance if they don’t see police... or even if they do, but don’t want to interact.

  172. Unless they're Black. Then God help them if they approach a cop.

  173. @Ethan Or, since this is NY City, just scream at the top of your lungs. At the very least you'll get whatever trouble you are in captured by a crowd of watchers of whatever is happening.

  174. Bravo!! I've told my 8-year old daughter she won't have a phone till she's 14 -- which may be longer than when she'll actually get it but my plan is to delay as much as possible. Thank you for sharing your story. I agree wholeheartedly with your approach and conclusions. Kids need to be equipped to make smart decisions in real situations, based on actual circumstances that they can only judge if their nose is not glued to a screen. Love it.

  175. Thank you so much for writing this! I can't stand it when I see kids walking around with phones, it's one of my biggest pet peeves with society. IMO, children don't need a phone until they reach high school (which here in Australia is around age 12). I think for a lot of parents who get their kids phones before they're 12, it's a dual cop-out of 'all their friends have phones and I don't want to be the uncool parent so I'll get them one too' combined with not wanting to teach them the skills that you mentioned, so they just buy a phone instead. A part it too is just lazy parenting in my view - 'I'll get my kid a phone (or tablet) and that will shut them up when we're out at dinner/have friends over/away on holiday' etc. If you want to give them something to ensure a bit of peace and quiet from time to time, why not give them something that will actually stimulate their mind (word searches, colouring-in books, even just a normal book to read) rather than have them stare at yet another screen for hours on end?

  176. In the 1970s and 1980s, my friends and I wandered the City streets on weekends with no thoughts of calling our parents. They didn’t seem to need to reach us either, but let us roam as we pleased. (We were responsible, straight-A students.) We became resourceful, strong, self-reliant adults — that’s a great thing. However, I’m certain that had we told our parents about the dangers that we encountered during our outings, they would not have been so cavalier about it.

  177. Kids can be a lot smarter than we give them credit for. My wife and I took our son down the Jersey Shore for a long weekend and went to ride the attractions. He let go of my hand for a minute and squirted off into the crowd. After about 20 minutes of truly scary searching for him my wife went off to find a policeman, and I kept searching. I found him parked at an ice-cream stand we had visited earlier in our trip, munching on a cone and calmly telling the salesgirl who he was and where he lived. He had remembered the place and liked it and figured he would be safe there.

  178. I’m a teacher and I recently asked two classes of students their opinion on the proper age to start using cell phones. It was an eye -opener. One class, 33 people, average age 17, one class, 31 people, average age 19. I said, “Knowing what you know now about cell phones and smartphones, imagine you are a parent- at what age would you give your own kids any type of mobile phone?” I figured they would say 11 or 12. Nope, both classes said the same thing, 15 or even 16. I think the key there was asking ‘knowing what you know’. The reality for them of what they knew from their own experience made giving them to their own imaginary future kids at too young of an age seem impossible...even to people still in their teenage years. They weren’t joking either.

  179. I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s with ancient technologies in the eyes of today's teenagers, which I find very funny given that I'm only 37. When I got my first car, a little Toyota Tercel, in 1998, my mom had an enormous car phone installed that was "for emergencies only." I remember getting a flat tire out in the country and using the car phone to page my parents, who then called me back on the phone to get location information for Triple A. The bill was close to $100, but at least I was safe and my tire was changed! I'm glad I grew up when I did, as I know how to use technology when needed, but am not "screened in" all the time, as my kids tell me.

  180. I broke my hand once with an exposed bone. A broken hand is no big deal. When a bone is exposed, though, minor surgery is needed to prevent infection. There is no trauma and little pain. There is need for a mother to be present while her 10 year old is treated. This stuff happens all the time to kids who play sports. Mom would have been better off taking care of the other sister. No one hovered over me because of minor surgery. The surgery lasts 20 minutes and there’s nothing for Mom to do but say “You’ll be fine.”

  181. Families need to do what’s right for them. Our son attended a private school 20 miles away from home and played 4 sports. We had to know where and when to get him, practically everyday. I don’t know what we would have doe w/o cell phones.

  182. @Deborah Klein you would have planned ahead — ie spoken with each other in the morning or the night before to confirm where your son would be and to arrange who would meet him where. Kids commuted and played sports and participated in all sorts of after school activities long beofre smart phones and somehow our parents managed.

  183. @Deborah Klein Families managed this just fine in the pre phone era.

  184. Common sense, critical thinking and problem solving skills are the gifts that keep on giving throughout a lifetime. Mobile devices, smart or flip, can be lost, stolen or lose their charge. Children should be taught all relevant contact information, home address, contact phone number(s), etc. so that they can communicate that information under any circumstance. As a person living in a more rural area, I support the idea of flip phones for emergencies or checking in but not smart phones. I see people of all ages so engrossed in their “smart phones” that they are completely unaware of their surroundings. Kids (and adults) need to be aware of the people and traffic around them. That is also a safety issue.

  185. When I was 11, I would take a bus 45 min into San Francisco, thru skid row to the East Bay terminal. Walk six blocks to a travel agency, deliver 6-12 airline tickets and then get back on the bus for the ride home in time for my little league games. Never missed a delivery. No phone, no gps, no snack, no juice box, but I did have a map to find office buildings. Love that story and now have a son in Spain learning to rely on his map skills albeit on an iPhone.

  186. Having two daughters myself I can only encourage buying them smartphones in that age. Overall it is net positive. They develop very fast high media usage competence and spent time with friends, sports etc. as of before, one could see where they are (in Germany it‘s normal that they use public transport without company from 7, 8 years onwards), it’s simply practical in plenty of situations. It’s more secure overall, especially for daughters.

  187. Good for you. Neither my husband nor I have cell phones, and our lives go along just fine. When I lived in NYC as a child (aged 6 to 11), cell phones didn't exist and I roamed the city by myself, using buses and ferries and subways. I was taught where not to go, what not to do in certain situations. Instead of paying attention to the palm of my hand, I observed life around me, absorbing impressions which became material for my adult work as a journalist and playwright and book author. Again, good for you.

  188. Brilliant story. It shows that a smart kid does not need a smart phone. My worst nightmares involve losing one of my kids in the street of some big city. I have this recurring nightmare in which I get into a subway car, the doors close, the train departs, and I realize that my son has remained alone on the platform. I have actually asked my son how he would react in this situation, and he has simply said "I'd try to call you on the phone (yes, he has inherited my ancient Iphone 5, refurbished with a new battery) but if it doesn't work in the subway tunnels I'd just wait for you on the platform, you know where you left me and you'd clearly come back with another train". All this while looking at me with a face that says "daddy, this is so obvious, are you serious"? Kids are smart. We still need to be careful with maniacs and kidnappers, but we can trust that our kids are much smarter than we imagine.

  189. Wrong. I grew up fine in Brooklyn NY in the 60s and 70s without a cell phone BUT there were pay phones that, today, no longer exist. I used to use pay phones all the time to check in at home. Denying a child his or her phone is a safety error.

  190. @Bruce Egert WRONG. there are now free kiosks where you an make free short calls

  191. Luckily, my two daughters were raised before mobile phones of any kind were available. They spent most all their time outside playing with their friends. And we spent hours and hours together doing things like hiking, riding bikes and body surfing. When friends or family were over they always joined in the conversation and activities. We never made them feel like kids should be seen and not heard. I now go visit my in laws who have young teenagers who spend all their time staring into their cell phones. They very rarely join the conversation they aren’t active and if you ask them a question they either don’t hear you or they grunt out a short answer. I can tell you what decision I would have made if cell phones had been available when my kids were young. Other than a flip phone, the answer would have been a solid no. They wouldn’t have been available for me to enjoy the time I had with them. And that would have been a huge loss.

  192. First time I got lost in NYC I was 6 years old, and I was lost on purpose. My parents called the cops, who responded but it seemed to be no big deal. I wandered home around 6pm, surprised at the (small) drama that ensued. I was exploring. It was normal. It was the 1960s.

  193. Why on earth would an 11 year old need a phone to handle "the dark streets of New York"? You simply walk up to any shopkeeper, doorman, or officer on the street and say, "Hey, I'm lost, can you call my mom?". Or does that require a phone app these days? Even if cellphones had existed when I was that age, my mother would never had allowed me to have one. She was a former Marine Corps telephone operator who handled top secret Pentagon phone lines. And when I was around 8 and we got our first "private phone", she told me to never say anything on a phone that I was not willing to shout at the top of my lungs from the street corner because there was no such thing as a private phone line. She told me the government listens in on all phone calls. How on earth did the Egyptians built the Pyramids without a smartphone is beyond me.

  194. Survival Skills, that is what most parents teach their children. What if.... and practice drills. Without technology. You never know when EVEN if you had a phone, it does not work for whatever reason. Think what Scouts learn for basic skills - emergency skills like basic medical information, wilderness skills, identification skills, well, apply this to map reading, memorizing basic information even with younger children, like address, parents and caregivers full names, phone numbers, and how to find a safe place under many situations like fire, weather, or worse 9/11.

  195. We too delayed getting phones for our kids. We prepared them to get around Manhattan by themselves, how to take buses, reading maps, going to stores for help, what to do in an emergency etc. As others have pointed out, people have managed to get around for most of history without phones. As a PS - last year one of my daughters, a college student, was mugged in Europe near the end of a trip. Her phone was stolen. She was alone at this point of her travels. She managed to complete the trip and get herself home without a phone.

  196. @SLM Yes, we got by without phones for a long time. We also got by with antibiotics, too, but why not take the convenience when offered. Also, the phone doesn't just offer safety. In this situation, it could have provided peace of mind for the author, who would have known much earlier that her daughter was fine. I can remember when my son was in high school, a while ago, and how happy I was when he could call me to say that the subway wasn't running, but he was going to take a bus, and would be delayed. I was spared the worry

  197. I expect that just about every city dweller reading this article who grew up before cellphones (myself included) had easy access to pay phones that could be operated with a dime or a quarter. So, sending an 11 year old out with no phone at all is worse that what we had before the advent of cellphones, because pay phones have gone the way of the Dodo Bird. You can still buy a “dumb” cell phone that makes and receives calls but does little else.

  198. @The Judge "Sending an 11 year old with not phone at all is worse than what we had before?" Not true. As it so happens, the old street-side payphone spots in Manhattan have NOT gone the way of the dodo bird. The City turned them into sidewalk kiosks -- from which anyone can make a free 3-minute call. No dime or quarter required. We didn't give our own 11-year-old the leeway to walk part-way home from school on his own until he knew how to find and use the sidewalk kiosks. Smart or dumb, a cell phone can wait a little while longer.

  199. People arguing for phones on the basis of "safety" always presume greater safety comes with having a cell phone. Given all the risks involved (including the greater chance of getting hit by a car), I'm not sure I agree.

  200. When my daughter was about 12 I bought her a mobile phone (not a smart phone at that time), and insisted that she have it switched on with the ringer volume up loud enough to hear the phone when it rings, unless she was at school. Priceless peace of mind for me on the odd occasions when she didn't show up somewhere as previously agreed; I could phone and find out what the hitch was. I don't understand why a parent would rather just wait and see what happens. I also don't understand what is virtuous about not using a phone in those situations.

  201. Her daughter, having proven herself not to need a smartphone, now surely won't get one. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot! Being only slightly older I was tasked with getting McDonalds for a long train ride while my parents were minding our luggage. Well, it took longer than expected, I thought I'd make it, but I missed the train by seconds. No one familiar left on the platform - did they leave without me? They had the train tickets too! I looked, I searched, had them called out on the PA system...well, if they aren't here they must be on their way home...luckily I had the change from my McDonalds so I bought another train ticket for myself and hopped in the next train home, while I devoured three McDonalds meals - which is too much and fries are terrible when they are cold. From my home station I called home on the pay phone but no one picked up the phone?! Now I became worried until I heard their voices - oh, there you are but why aren't you already home? Turns out they thought I'd make it, had to decide between luggage and their son (they opted for the luggage) but got off at an intermediate station...realized the futility and headed home. They were rather hungry but I definitely wasn't...

  202. @Max . I recommend the book Tales for the Perfect Child by Florence Parry Heide. Particularly the one about the boy who is so clumsy with the dishes that his mother no longer allows him to wash them, entrusting the task instead to his more responsible sister.

  203. The best thing a parent, any parent (or caregiver) can do for the child is to instill within them confidence in themselves. That regardless of the situation, from a classroom test to an athletic event to being lost on the streets of New York, the solution to whatever confronts them resides within themselves. You successfully inculcate this into your child, the ability to trust in themselves, and you can rest easy. You have aced your parental guidance test. John~ American Net'Zen

  204. I’m glad this situation turned out well, but the author’s conduct seems to me rash. Never let principle outweigh common sense. I’ve probably seen too many episodes of Law and Order, but the possibilities in the situation are really frightening, and if the daughter had been able to get the correct address via text from mom, all the anxiety could have been avoided.

  205. Moral of the story: Meet at unique places, not Starbucks. Just the other day I was going to meet someone at this Starbucks, the other person insisted they were inside a Starbucks and that I was late, not them and it took a while to figure out which one of the half a dozen Starbuckses (what's the plural of Starbucks anyway?) within a mile radius was the one we were both in. Or McDonalds - I thought it's easy, my motel is right next to McDonalds on route abc, then I realized there's more than one so I counted them but after McDonalds #38 I gave up because I got confused. In the end I found my motel because of the unique combination of the order of chain places (First Arbys, then Starbucks, then McDonalds, not any other combination thereof)

  206. Ha I was thinking the same thing! Another reason to appreciate unique places.

  207. I don’t have kids so I don’t have a horse in this race but I can play out in my mind scenarios for both arguments. Kids with cell phones can reach out to loved one immediately if plans go off kilter. Or a kid preoccupied with a phone is an easy target for someone with bad intentions.... Regardless of where a parent stands on the cell phone issue all parents need to teach their kids how to react in any situation. -Kids need to be aware of their location at all times. Do they know the street they are on and the nearest crosswalk? -Kids need to know the phone number of a parent of guardian by heart. This is especially critical for kids with cell phones who have phone numbers on speed dial. -Kids need to know who to approach and who not to approach for help. An adult with kids in tow might be a safer bet then an adult sitting in a parked car. -Kids with phones need to know when not to have their phone out. A kid on a busy street is an easy mark for a person with ill intentions. Kids should know that a responsible grown up would NEVER ask a kid to “borrow their phone under any circumstances. If your kids cannot deal with duress or function under pressure it makes no difference if they have phones or not. It is vital for you to arm them with as much information as possible to keep them safe when you can’t be with them.

  208. This mother is putting her daughter at risk to prove a point. Why not teach her how to use today’s technology responsibly? Mom could make rules such as no cellphone use in the house or limit her phone usage, which is easily tracked online. Not giving her a phone is giving her a false sense of independence. When I was a kid my mother insisted I have a dime in my penny loafers to make a call in case of trouble. Then there were telephone booths on every corner and bread cost 35 cents a loaf. My grandson returned home from school recently to a house where there had been a lock/key mix-up and he couldn’t get inside in 20 degree weather. Thank heavens he had a cell phone. He was able to solve the problem himself by calling an adult to rescue him.

  209. The simple solution is a $20 or so simple phone that is not a smartphone and a list of phone numbers in a plastic ziplock bag stored separately where they will always be available. A phone number written inside shoes is a great idea for younger children, too. I agree that an internet-enabled smartphone is not appropriate for a 10 to 12-year old, but a phone that is simple a phone can be a life saver. Even when you take the leap to a smart phone, you do not have to suddenly give a 13- or 14-year old unrestricted internet 24/7. You can enable certain functions only like a map program, transit program and so on. I'm glad the author came to the conclusion herself to buy a simple phone, but it does clearly undercut the premise of the article.

  210. @IA . Even those cheap phones usually have address books and speed dial, so you can program in lots of phone numbers.

  211. Can a parenting essay exist without the author taking shots at parents who choose differently for their kids? I'm glad that this mother found her child and is happy with what she chooses for her family. But choosing to give your kid a Smartphone is not a moral failing, and the kids who use them aren't necessarily glued to them, or helpless without them.

  212. I think it's great to create that sense of value in your kids - that not every child starting at age 6 needs the latest Iphone. What shocks me and makes me wonder is why any parent would plan to have their 11 year old walk the streets of NYC by themselves.

  213. @John because it's our home. we should teach our kids how to navigate it. stay in California if you think NYC isn't safe (you're wrong by the way; google it)

  214. I don't really understand; mom can simply empower kids, teach kids how to use smartphones as a tool, rather than a distraction. Seems to me that mom likes to gamble with her kid’s safety.

  215. Why not Uber the older sister to the hospital so everybody could be together. Family values and all that.

  216. @michjas -- Assuming you're kidding. As a mother of a daughter I would choose sitting among random Starbucks adults before being alone in car with Uber driver any day of the week. Even for myself.

  217. Most of the time, your child is surrounded by good, well meaning adults. Most of the time, nothing bad happens. But once in a while, the nightmare from the true crime shows and “Taken” blows up your life. I had walked home alone from school hundreds of times long before we had smartphones and nothing happened until one day it did. I was 15 years old when a man in his 30s offered me a ride home from school. He strategically parked his truck a few blocks from my high school and (I imagine) singled me out because I was walking alone. After i repeatedly refused a ride, he followed me home on foot for almost a mile until i confronted him. The fact that my unexpected reaction apparently unnerved him enough to leave me alone is not a win. I wish I could have called the police or my mother. Smartphones arent nearly as dangerous as ill intentioned grown men.

  218. @Julie I agree! And a young person nowadays might well take a pic of the truck, the license place---something important that would make a real difference.

  219. @Julie HOW IS THIS NOT A WIN? something similar happened to me at 7 and i also escaped unscathed. i see it as a mark of quick thinking. not always enough, but more than often.

  220. Yes, and our grandparents walked miles to school in six feet of snow. Please. You got lucky this time. Don't play with your children's lives to prove a point--there is danger out there.

  221. Yes! Yes! Yes! Say no to smart phones! My kids ride the trains without them as children have for decades. Let them learn how to figure it out and ask for help. I see kids walking down the street staring at their smartphones unaware of their surroundings. My son's friend had a smartphone and it was stolen in the park when he put down his bag. Some kids also lose things all the time. There are plenty of other things that children can learn to care for and keep track of. Yes, I'm not getting suckered into getting smartphones for my kids. When I was 19 I went all over Europe by myself for a couple of months - no cell phone. It was one of the best times of my life. I learned so much and gained so much confidence - no cell phone needed! Kudos to your daughter and you!

  222. @AM I agree with these but I will say one big problem is the fact that pay phones have disappeared. Most kids will be ok going into a public place and asking to use a phone, but it's a lot harder to reach people now with no payphones available.

  223. @JJ yes, now there are free stations to call from all over manhattan. know before you post.

  224. Glad your daughter is safe but for heaven's sake, it isn't as though she was gone for days plus she handled the situation well on her own. Now about the classmate's baby-sitter....

  225. Bravo to you. There isn't a teacher in the world that wouldn't love a school without smartphones. Nothing says privilege like a kid with a $500 smartphone.

  226. Sigh a piece calculated for its pr/clickbait value, more appropriate for buzzfeed. Kudos to Ms. Birmingham's publicist. Back to the real would you give your child a flip phone or use the parental controls on your tweens smartphone to limit what apps they can use and who they can contact

  227. Good job! I'd say, though, that one of the other things you could take from this is that your daughters don't need flip phones either.

  228. At that age, long before cell phones, I navigated Manhattan on the subway by myself. It's not hard. You and your daughter have nothing particularly to be proud of. On the other hand, compound fractures are frightening.

  229. Good job. Stick the tech exclusion as long as you can - even though they will hate you for it as high schoolers. The bad news: dangers to children can come from clean cut professionals in nice places. The first time I didn’t bring my son (he insisted) into the ladies room with me and his younger sister, he was eight (8) years old. At a nice tourist arts place, mid-day, weekend. The women’s restroom line was long, just three stalls, you know how it is. We finally got outside and he was sitting on the bench, right outside the door where I left him. There was a clean-cut man, maybe 30, round wire glasses, pressed khakis, polo shirt and very nice loafers. He looked like a CPA. I said “hello?”, he said “hello”. I turned to look at my son, then turned back to him and he had melted into the crowd. That’s when I Knew. My hair still stands up whenever I think about it. “Nice” places and “nice” people is no guarantee.

  230. You are overly confident and should definitely take better care of your daughter. On this occasion it was a “no-kidnappery adult” but next time it could be someone more dangerous. I remember coming home from school, in the fifth grade, and on the way a grown adult offered me money to help him “move furniture”. Why did he need some skinny 11 year old kid to help him move furniture? I think he was arrested later.

  231. I mean no disrespect, but this story could've ended in tragedy. I don't view this mother as a role model for anyone. She got lucky, and so did her very smart child. The world has profoundly changed--it is now nothing to read that a child has gone to school to murder classmates. And we all know that telephone booths have longed disappeared from the landscape. So a "dumb phone", one that has no internet connections, is an essential safety tool for children who are mature enough to walk the streets alone. As the Scouts say: "Be Prepared". My personal example: driving in California was always perfectly safe, until it wasn't. In broad daylight, in an expensive area, my car got caught between two cars whose drivers were shooting at each other. And, yes, I had a dumb phone to immediately call the police. No, I don't have a smart phone. Though my child and I escaped unharmed, it could have very easily gone the other way. I am confused as to why this mother is so proud of herself.

  232. The world has changed. It’s become safer. I applaud this mom for raising a daughter who could evaluate the situation, navigate the city, and problem solve on her own.

  233. @Just A Thought Every 34 minutes, somewhere in this country, some innocent person is murdered. Are you not aware of that statistic? How does that fact make America safer? Schools, everywhere in America, now teach children what to do, if an intruder enters their school with weapons. It's a mandatory part of learning school safety rules in the USA today. There's not a school district in America that does not have a live shooter safety plan in place. Is this the safer America you're talking about? So, therefore, one can still have a child "problem solve on her own", as well as have the capability of immediately calling 911 on her own, if the child was in trouble, or saw someone else in trouble. It is absolutely ridiculous for this mother to think that having a phone cancels out a child's ability to acquire critical thinking skills. Phones give children security and independence. Irresponsible anti-phone warrior parents take that away from them. Why should a child have to go look for someone to help them, when, with a phone, the daughter could have done it all by herself. But I agree with you, this mother raised a smart daughter. I'm so happy for this child--it could have so very easily gone the other way.

  234. To me the phone isn’t the center of the issue. My vote would have been having her wait at the pool for the sitter, where there were presumably other responsible adults like a coach? life guard? I wouldn’t send an eleven year old to go Starbucks alone. Just my opinion!

  235. Exactly!, my thought is that the child with the broken is safe at the hospital. Why not go out and get the child at swim practice and bring her back to the hospital instead of relying on a babysitter of another child.

  236. I grew up wandering Brooklyn and the City. I got lost. I still do. And in almost any city I visit. And any place, really. I find my way without a cell phone. By choice. Now I live near a national park. Recently as I approached a summit I heard people hollering and found a cluster of hikers around a 'free range' 10 year old child who had gotten separated from his adults. He was a spunky and competent child. He was also lost, anxious, and without a phone. Over a dozen hikers ditched their plans and fanned out looking for his adults. Fortunately we had phones, located the child's adults on the summit of another mountain, and reunited them. Thanks to our common sense and preparedness. Well prepared beats "awesome" any day. There has to be some common sense in parenting. I suggest that at the extremes of 'free range' and 'anti vax' and 'anti phone' parenting are very ideologically rigid, blinkered, and selfish people who depend on everybody else to do what they won't - care for the safety and health of their children.

  237. So the lesson is that the Mom beat technology and her child survived One Time of being in the city without a smartphone. The mom then writes about it defiantly and somewhat sanctimoniously in an effort to stir the bee's nest. It's a single case offered to "prove" the author's point of view and maybe assuage her guilt. Single cases rarely stand for long. It's literally a matter of luck--probability--that it didn't turn out badly. Each flip of the coin, the other side could pop up. Some prefer Vegas for gambling rather than their kids' lives, but to each her own. The assumption is that the child is So Much Better Off for not having a smartphone. Millions of cases prove that this isn't necessarily the case and in fact the child could be worse off without it and not for the way discussed here--the supposed zombie-fication of the child. Rather the child could be missing out on learning. One child of mine taught herself to draw in middle school using the phone that I was not happy her father gave her. She'd blow up photos of things to draw: fingernails, anatomically correct hearts. She became an extraordinary artist. With no other art lessons she attended LaGuardia HS, and an elite college. Son turns out was downloading pdfs of books because school was "boring." He read the original Frankenstein, Greek comedies and is considering going into Classics. But: two examples don't prove anything! Well, the author only had one example, one flip of a coin that turned out right this time.

  238. What a superstition lot of readers: never let your child leave home without that vial of saint’s blood (four leaf clover, rabbit’s foot) in her pocket, you never know what could happen. I have read countless articles now about people being mowed down by gunmen, and I don’t think it is a leap to say many if not all of the dead in most cases had cellphones. Cellphones are useful, I completely agree. But just as easily as a child can use the phone to call mom, he or she can also decide to turn it off or ignore mom when she calls. This mom raised her child to be smart and resourceful, and I suspect she also knew her child was up to the task. Big thumbs up, Mom.

  239. Just don't raise a kid in NYC. Problem solved. In so many ways.

  240. @Gregg Not helpful. There are more than 1 million kids in NYC, more than population most US cities.

  241. @Gregg Raise them in Texas that way u only have speak two languages in New York you have to speak 15 to survive

  242. @Gregg Don't throw the kids out with the bath water.

  243. "Taken" is PG-13, and parts of it are extremely intense and frightening (the torture scene, for example). Is it really an appropriate film for Ms. Birmingham's daughters?

  244. @Pdianek I think thats for her to decide. That's the G in Parental GUIDANCE in movie ratings.