Opinion

Why Louis C.K. won't let his kids have cell phones

Today's Parent senior editor Ariel Brewster responds to a recent video of Louis C.K.'s rant against kids having cell phones.

KidsCellphones-September2013-iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

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Have you all watched Louis C. K’s diatribe on Conan against giving fancy smartphones and cell phones to kids? It went viral late last week, as Apple released their shiny new iPhones, and the whole world, of course, lined up once again. Louis, who has two school-aged daughters, certainly won’t be gifting his girls a 5s or 5c. He believes that phones are too easily used as a way to bully other children. Kids use them to communicate without learning about consequences, relationships, and feelings. “I think these things are toxic, especially for kids,” he says. “They don’t look at people when they talk to them and they don’t build empathy.” It’s easy for a kid to name-call a classmate via text, he explains, but much harder to be that mean face-to-face. (See video below)

Read more: Kids and responsible cell phone use >

Louis C. K.’s other point is hilarious, kind of sad, but oh-so-true (which, I think, is his unique comedic genius). He gets into a more existential corner of the smartphone debate: how we all use our phones as an emotional crutch, to combat what he calls the “forever empty.” Whether it’s texting or connecting on social media, we’re essentially combating loneliness, whether we know it or not. We’re getting worse and worse at being alone. Do you find it hard to sit on a park bench while your kids play and just soak it all in, without multitasking or scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed? Do you text while stuck in traffic, or sitting on the bus, simply because you’re bored or frustrated? I find myself looking down at my phone more and more, instead of looking out the window at the world around me. “You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there,” says C.K. “That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty — forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. It’s down there.” Using some decidedly NSFW language, he goes on to compare our phone addiction to a food addiction, and other ways we try to fill the emptiness.

Read more: Children and cell phones: Rules that work >

Existential angst aside, I think C.K. has hit on a really relatable, dirty little secret of our modern digital culture — distracted parenting. We all fight it. This is why I really loved Sarah Boesveld’s story in the National Post about parents who find it hard to put their phones away when they’re playing with their kids. We’ve all seen this happening at the neighbourhood playground. Parents are there, but they’re not totally present, they’re on their phones. One dad admits that his four-year-old daughter has admonished him for spending too much time texting when they’re supposed to be playing together. Do you sometimes catch yourself taking photos of your kids for Facebook or Instagram, instead of participating and just BEING with them? I think a lot of us are guilty of this. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, I don’t think it’s actually because we’re trying to multitask. Checking our phones is simply a habit — an instinctual, repetitive motion — that’s become extremely hard to break. And the scary thing is, kids are watching us and imitating our behaviour. (Of course they want smartphones!)

We ran a story about teaching kids cell phone rules, and it’s no surprise that all the experts said the first step is for parents to model responsible phone etiquette themselves. 

Do you agree with Louis C. K.? Do your kids have phones? We found that 42 percent of our readers think kids should be 13 or older before they’re allowed to have their own phone — only 12 percent said kids age nine or 10 should have phones. And 39 percent of readers said their kids would have to wait until they’re old enough to pay for it themselves.