To counter device obsession, get kids started with flip phones

I’ve rarely seen my favorite 11-year-old pick up her phone. She’s not addicted like other kids. That’s because she uses a clamshell phone. I recommend it to parents worried about obsessive smartphone use.

When my girlfriend was 9 I gave her an old Jitterbug phone that came to me to check at least 10 years ago but still works. Besides messages and calls, she finds it handy for taking photos of homework. She also takes photos of billboards for events her family may wish to attend. Perhaps because it’s so old, its photo-sharing feature has stopped working and its call quality is choppy at times. But it’s a great example of how flip phones can provide the services kids need without the compulsiveness of apps like Instagram and TikTok. “It’s a great entry-level phone,” she says.

When she first got it two years ago, she used the built-in canned text messages like “How are you?” or “Thank you” until she got going. She’s now a speed demon when texting, but saves it for important messages, like canceling a game date. Our conversation was rarely interrupted by a text message.

Here’s something else: “The Jitterbug has a great battery,” she says. Like other flip phones, it lasts for weeks on a single charge. It also has Bluetooth, which my friend connects her earbuds to when she wants a private conversation. The home screen displays the date and time, another feature she loves.

The latest version of the Jitterbug, a 4G phone called the Flip 2, is sold by Lively.com for $75, which is about double the price of other Flip phones but comes with additional services. For example, there is an old-fashioned operator, a human Google. I will never forget the time she helped me find my way to a car rental in the pouring rain. The latest Flip 2 has a human operator as well as Alexa.

The Jitterbug is touted for seniors for its Urgent Response button and other services. The emergency assistance puts you in contact with doctors, nurses and carers around the clock. There’s also a button for Lively Rides, which the company claims are cheaper than taxis. Other senior services include fall detection and automatic notifications for specific family members and friends.

Since Verizon is the Jitterbug provider, my little friend’s phone will be crunching the dust when Verizon shuts down its 3G service on December 31st of this year. By then, she might be ready for her first smartphone. She says she’d enjoy Facetime video chatting and easier texting.

If you are thinking of buying a clamshell phone for a child, you can avoid the 3G problem by searching “4G clamshell phones”. You’ll find quite a few of them starting at around $30. According to digi.com, 4G phones won’t be phased out until sometime after 2030.

GLUING WITH 3G

One reader asked: “Can you still use devices that no longer work with 3G?

To make calls and send text messages, use apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Signal when connected to Wi-Fi. You will need a live phone number during the verification process, but you could use a family member’s number. The app will send a code to that number. Once you’ve pasted it, you’re good to go. It can be your free phone forever. The only downside aside from missed calls when you’re out of WiFi range is that the person calling you has to use the same app as you.

BETTER EDUCATION DIGITAL

If you are dissatisfied with your child’s education, you can suggest that the school do what New Hampshire does. They use “Discovery Education” with content from the Discovery Channel and many others. Partners include Reuters, the WPA Film Library, the National Science Foundation, PBS News Hour, and a dozen companies, even Pepsi. Along with customizable lessons and virtual field trips, kids can explore careers.

A free alternative is TED Ed, an offshoot of TED Talks. TED stands for “Technology, Entertainment and Design” and brings some of the world’s most colorful speakers on stage for 15 minutes on their favorite topic, which can be anything, even “shyness”. TED Ed, for kids and teachers, is great too. I saw an interesting poll of people on the street asking Australians to explain the phases of the moon. Even the smartest of them left out some that the TED Ed expert filled in. Like Discovery Education, TED Ed lessons are customizable.

INTERNUTS

• Go to mashable.com and search “It’s a boat, it’s a bike, it’s a house!” There is a video showing the “Z-Triton 2.0” in action. It can accommodate two people in its cabin. When it’s not in the water, it becomes an e-bike with 1000 watts of power and a seven-speed hub gear. It has a solar roof.

• The longest car in the world was recently included in the Guinness Book of Records. You can see a video of it on mashable.com. It’s 100 feet long and has a pool, helipad, and miniature golf. Let’s hope the driver doesn’t take sharp turns.

• Justwatch.com lists options for movies or TV shows you might want to watch. It told me I could get the movie I want from the public library using the free Hoopla app. As part of a documentary film class, I watched The Work, about an intensive therapy session with inmates and outsiders at Folsom Prison.

Joy Schwabach can be reached by email at [email protected]

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