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Why I Won’t Take the “Wait Until 8th” Pledge With My Kids

Our kids live in a digital world. By preventing their access, we are hampering their digital literacy and alienating them from their culture.

So there’s this new pledge happening now and I’m really not sure how I feel about it. At first read, it seems pretty logical – the organization suggests that waiting until grade 8 for smartphones “will decrease the pressure felt by kids and parents alike over the kids having a smartphone.”  Proponents argue that kids should remain kids for longer and that smartphones are hampering childhood.

If you take a look at the website for “Wait Until 8th,” you first encounter an image of four kids, smiling, lying in the grass with colourful paint all over their faces. The assumption is that these kids could not possibly be running around outside innocently painting each other’s faces while on social media. But how much do you want to bet that at least one of them has a smartphone hidden in her pocket (and probably snapchatted the picture)?

It speaks to a generation of “Parents [who] feel powerless in this uphill battle and need community support to help delay the ever-evolving presence of the smartphone in the classroom, social arena and family dinner table.”

The pledge is designed with parents’ best interests in mind, but reframed as beneficial for kids. In reality, many parents do not have the time or the skill to set privacy filters, or monitor their kid’s use of social media. So by jumping on the “Wait Until 8th” bandwagon, they don’t have to!

The organization suggests only giving kids basic phones with calling and texting capabilities (which is, of course, within their parents’ know-how and comfort zone).

The movement fear-mongers by highlighting research and studies that show that smartphones are addictive, inhibit sleep and put your kid at risk for a whole host of psychological problems.

There is really nothing new here, though. Every generation, parents try to ban new forms of culture and technology in order to protect their children from the dangers of it. For instance, in the 50s parents (and schools) banned Rock’n Roll because they were afraid it was too sexual (thanks, Elvis the pelvis).

The media warns. Parents panic. And then they make rules. Lots of rules. This is why, as a Gen Y mom, I’m supposed to cloth diaper, avoid gluten, and buy organic.

Douglas Adams wisely explains, “Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things (The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time [2002]).

While I am a staunch advocate for informed and responsible use of technology, for careful parental monitoring and open conversations, I don’t think that removing smartphones from the equation is the answer. I am in no way denigrating or criticizing your personal parenting choices, but our kids are digital natives! Social media is entrenched in their culture and their way of life. They need to learn how to navigate smartphones and social media responsibly, with clear limits and boundaries, or we are doing them a grave disservice! Here’s why I won’t “Wait Until 8th” with my own kids.

  1. Have you ever dropped your phone in the toilet? At best, you head home and put out a Facebook message, at worst, you miss an important call from your boss as you scramble to get that phone into a bowl of rice, stat. There has been a paradigm shift in communication technologies. Smartphones are the primary way we communicate, work, and socialize! If I pledged not to give my kids smartphones until they turn fourteen, I think that I’d be hampering their development in the digital world! How can we encourage kids to learn to code but not put the information at their fingertips? In a world where “to google” has become a verb, I think, as parents, we need to work harder at educating our kids on using smartphones and social media responsibly. Which leads to my second point…
  2. As parents, we lead by example. If we constantly have our noses in our phones at the dinner table, our kids will too! Set family limits and screen rules in your home. Model appropriate social media use for your kids instead of banning it.
  3. Even if I wanted to take the “Wait Until 8th” pledge, kids will find a way around it – they always do! When we ban something, it just makes kids want to do it even more (after all, if it’s banned, it must be really good). When we introduced a one-to-one laptop program at my middle school, the rules were clear and strict. No instant messaging. No surfing unapproved websites. No Youtube. No games. The list of infractions went on and on, each with harsh consequences attached. Kids are industrious and, for the most part, their technological know-how is leaps and bounds beyond our own. So when I “catch” kids breaking the tech rules, instead of suspending them right away and confiscating their laptops, I talk to them and give them the chance to self-regulate (which I really think is the more important lesson).

If, like me, you don’t want to “Wait Until 8th,” what can you do help your kids navigate their smartphone safely? First and foremost, set limits and social media/smartphone rules. I always advise parents to not allow any technology in kids’ bedrooms. Ever. This helps to keep kids safe and parents in the know.

Second, talk to your kids about how to use smartphones and social media responsibly. Educate them on how to develop good digital judgment and citizenship. Show them how you do it!

Finally, set aside screen-free time to unplug and get outside as a family. I love the idea of screen-free Sundays, for the entire family!

The bottom line? Teaching kids how to self-regulate is so much more powerful than teaching them that they don’t have to.

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