Dear tween daughter,
I know what you want. It comes in a clean, white box with a silver apple on it. It is a window to the world, access to anything at anytime, a real-time digital autobiography for the world to read. I know that it seems like everyone else has one. I know that the first year of middle school without a smartphone made you feel left out. I know that you think it will connect you. But I want to give you a different perspective. Please hear me out.
Everyday at 3:18 pm I would start to see your middle school peers filing out of the bus and making their way home. Some had their heads down, eyes locked on a screen, fingers swiping and tapping methodically. They would pass our house silently, one by one, not noticing me with the cooing baby or the doodle wagging his tail so hard that he might fall over. Their faces were blank and focused, like a zombie parade. I wondered what kind of circus show would pull their gaze away from whatever was pulling them into their phones.
Then I would hear an eruption of giggles at least four houses down. I could see two girls happily skipping down the walk, their hands making silly gestures and their faces lit up with expressions that no emoji on earth could ever replicate. Their eyes would be locked on each other and they bounced their words back and forth like a ping pong match. My heart smiled first when I saw that it was you and your best friend, and a wave of pride and relief would come over me.
You, my sweet daughter, are a curator of a dying art. The beautiful symphony of voices fluctuating to express feelings; hands enthusiastically conducting an orchestra of emotions; the crescendo of laughter at the end. It’s a slowly dying art but you are keeping it alive and it cannot survive inside a screen.
You don’t know how to take the perfect selfie; or the hashtags that will attract the most likes; or the feeling of scrolling through a social media feed to discover that you were one of the only kids left out. I know you feel like the only one without, but I’m giving you a gift.
You know that Polaroid picture of you and your best friend hanging from your string lights? That’s the only copy that exists in the world. It’s priceless. It’s an original. You and her were in that moment and now that moment is happily displayed where only you and your closest friends can see it. There’s no hashtag, screen capture, digital copy, filter or comments to augment that moment. It belongs to you. Your life and moments should be made for yourself, not for an audience. Your beautiful and brilliant mind cannot make all the right decisions right now because those parts of your brain are not even close to being developed. I cannot expect the science of that to change for you, so I will not burden you with the choice of how much of your life you should share with the world.
Please accept this gift. Keep it in your pocket. It is a treasure but you might not realize its value until you are older. Keep lugging that big Polaroid camera everywhere you go and capturing your moments for that beautiful string light gallery in your room.
There will come a time when you get to open a clean, white box with an apple on it, but for now, the greatest gift I can give to you are these memorable, awkward, explorative years without a smartphone.