A new group, Wait Until 8th is asking parents to take a pledge to not give their kids a smartphone before eighth grade. Why? It cites some key factors:
- Academic distraction
- Sleep interference
- Struggle with real-life relationships
- An increase risk in anxiety and depression
- Being exposed to sexual content
Want to take the pledge? Find it at WaitUntil8th.org
Here’s what I know as a parent: smartphones are a part of my children’s lives both socially and academically. I have a 10th-grader, who got a phone in sixth grade, and a seventh-grader, who got it in fifth grade.
Fifth-grade was definitely too young, though most of her classmates already had one. She just wasn’t ready and made some pretty horrible mistakes. Sixth-grade felt right. It was an easy transition as part of going to middle school. Now both of my kids use their phones as their primary way of communicating with friends — that’s through texting, not actual voice — and also as their primary academic resource. Need to know a fact for your homework? Grab the phone. In fact, they both have classes where they are told to pull out their phones and look something up.
Giving your kid a cellphone and continuing to let them use one gives you daily teachable moments. I’ve interviewed a lot of folks, from the folks who are all about installing their watchdog app, to the folks that would be in the abstain from cellphones camp, to the teaching your child cellphone safety and etiquette is the way to go.
I tend to fall in the latter camp.
Just because you give your child a phone doesn’t mean you’re off the hook as a parent or that you can just install some software to prevent bad things from happening. It’s about educating your kids how to use them.
Devorah Heitner, founder of the website Raising Digital Natives, and author of “Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World,” offers this list of things to talk to your children about when it comes to devices:
- Do they know people they are playing online games with? If not, you might want to set up a private server in games like Mindcraft to only invite real people they know.
- Are they involved in group texts? Remind them that everyone is on those texts and can get hurt.
- Are friends sharing texts with other friends about other friends? Remind them to not engage in that behavior and call it out when they see them.
- Do they know the difference between online friends and real friends?
- Are they looking for validation based on the number of likes and comments on posts?
- What will happen if they lose their phone, tablet or computer? How will they reimburse you?
- Do they understand that digital money is real money? Do you have a plan on what permission they will need and how they can pay for their online purchases?
- How much time is too much screen time? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours a day. What limits will you set?
- What will cause them to lose their phone, tablet or computer?
- Where will the phones, tablets and computers live at night? Hint: Not in their bedrooms.
- Make sure they know it’s OK to not respond to texts and social media posts right away. They don’t need to be connected all the time.
- Invite them to ask you when they have a question. Google is wonderful, but it might provide information they might not understand or might be overwhelming to them.
- Talk through different situations: What will you do if you see something inappropriate on your phone? What will you do if you feel a friend is not behaving well online? What will you do if a friend doesn’t understand that you can’t respond right away?
Need more ideas: Start a conversation with your kids. Austin moms Julie Farnie and Kate Scholz created the Off the Grid game that delves into social media as well as other social pressures kids face. Plus you get to talk about your favorite celebrities, best qualities of people in your family and more.
After some serious grumbling, my Girl Scout troop of seventh- and eighth-graders actually enjoyed the conversations the questions sparked.