06/24/2014 03:54 pm ET Updated Aug 24, 2014

My Teen Got a Smartphone the Old-Fashioned Way: She Earned It

David Pereiras Villagrá


That's what everybody accuses me of when they hear the unthinkable. Last year, I wrote an article about why I would not be buying a smartphone for my teenager. Of course she was not too thrilled. But over time, my reasoning started to make sense. One fine day, she conceded, "I can't argue with any of the points you make in your article. I don't really need a smartphone."

That music to my ears was a symphony.

When my daughter turned 15 in April, I started getting pressure -- not from her, but from friends and family. One person said, "Everyone else her age has a smartphone. That poor kid is going to end up in therapy."

Others warned that I was ruining her social life and called me a "Tiger Mom." Even my husband tried to wear me down.

But the sun continued to rise and set every day. My daughter was doing just fine without a smartphone. She used her iPod and a laptop for connecting via chats anywhere there was a wireless connection. When she complained, a rare occurrence, I reminded her about how she agreed that smartphones are a want, not a need.

The more I saw children glued to their devices, the more indignant I got. The thought of my intelligent, thoughtful daughter playing "Candy Crush" or group chatting at all hours made me physically ill. I didn't want to see her on a smartphone while waiting to be picked up, instead of socializing with classmates. I was still hearing about adults who caved in against their better judgment. Their kids have turned into teenage mutant smartphone zombies, never to be seen again by their parents. It would be a very long time before I signed her up for this kind of madness.

Then hell froze over.

My daughter had just come home from an afternoon of volunteering. It was the end of a busy week, exams were coming up and she was hot and cranky. She yelled, "I hate this phone!"

She plugged her four-year-old device into the charger and disappeared into her room.

A few minutes later, I sat down on her bed. "We will get you a smartphone,"I said matter-of-factly.

I heard a pin drop. My husband was walking by and stopped dead in his tracks. You could have blown him over with a feather. My daughter looked dazed and confused. I even surprised myself. I took her hand and said, "Your grades are excellent, you're mature and responsible, you practice your piano, read every night and help around the house. Not only that, you work hard at everything you do. We are so proud. You have earned the right to have a smartphone. Are you still interested?"

She looked at me like I just gave her keys to a new car.

After a spectacular show of gratitude, we talked about expectations. I reinforced that smartphones are not a lifestyle necessity at this time in her young life, but a luxury. To get one, she had to agree to the "electronic device rules" we set up when she was in middle school. (The list was supplemented with a few new ones to address 24/7 Internet access.)

Faster than she could say, "I promise," we were off to the mobile phone store. Like a moth to a flame, she fluttered across the showroom to the object of her desire: a white, iPhone 5s.

When she opened that rectangular white box, she looked as though she had discovered buried treasure. She picked it up like it was fine China and bought a pink and purple case to protect it with her babysitting money. Ever since, she has cherished her acquisition and treats it with kid gloves. For me, instead of feeling like our retail excursion was a dreaded rite of passage, I am proud.

Several weeks later, she's using her iPhone more sensibly than I ever imagined. Because she knows I frown upon any smartphone usage when with others, she's acutely aware of consequences. (She knows I will throw it out the window if she's on it when I'm driving her someplace.) I am optimistic this behavior will continue, although a few infractions are expected.

To help make a smooth transition to a smartphone, here's some advice:

1. Patience
Even if they lose their cell phone or it gets broken, get it replaced. Don't cave in and upgrade to a smartphone if you don't think they're ready. The longer you wait, the more appreciative your child will be.

2. Responsibility
The child pays for the activation fee, taxes and the data plan. I was blown away when my daughter volunteered to an extra $10 per month for insurance. "I'll definitely need that," she told the salesperson.

3. Control
Buy the phone. (He who giveth can taketh away.)

4. Consistency
Adhere to the rules you set up. Stick to them. Don't waver. This will be hard, but worth the work. If a smartphone is your child's first foray into the mobile world, think it through very carefully. Are they old enough to handle the Internet when you're not around? If not, a basic phone will do.

5. Reinforcement
Remind your child that a smartphone is not an entitlement. Like driving, using one is a privilege.

Giving in to constant pressure is the fate of many parents. But it doesn't have to be that way. Every time the smartphone question rears its ugly head, keep repeating, "Patience, Grasshopper. Good things come to those who wait."