Pt2 - Smartphones for kids and teenagers - a guide for parents (Part Two)
Parents have been given no compass, map or guidebook to navigate this technological age. However, some organisations and parent-led initiatives have taken this on to help parents make decisions about how and when to give their children or teenagers smartphones.
I have no magic solution to give you, all I can do is to share and elevate the organisations who are keeping this debate ongoing. This year I attended an enlightening conference talk by Wait until 8th Campaign, an parent-led organisation in the US encouraging parents to delay giving their children a smartphone until the eighth grade (age 12-13).
Whilst this age bracket is not the be-all and end-all of solutions, I found the talk helped me to understand what the concerns are around using smartphones, and how delaying might help parents to prepare their kids for how to responsibly use smartphones.
Here are my key takeaways from what was discussed. I appreciate this is an enormous blog post, so I have split it into 4 sections. I am reporting back on what I learned, however if you are interested in my views I have written my perspective and caveats to the advice shared below.
Part One - What's the problem?
Part Two - What can parents do to set boundaries?
Part Three - Q&A of relevant questions.
Part Four - My own perspective and caveats.
Part Two - What can parents do to set appropriate boundaries?
Introduce apps slowly and develop trust and confidence that your teenager is able to make judgement calls for themselves, and come to you for support when they’re not sure. Technology giants’ CEOs themselves admit that they are not letting their kids use social media until they are older. Therefore, age 14-16 is recommended by Wait until 8th for access to social media.
Use a dumb phone without internet access. Provide your child a dumb phone which only allows texts or phone calls, not access to the internet or apps. A list of dumb phone reviews can be found here.
We can try to set an example. We often forget to admit that we adults are addicted to our phones. If you want your teenager to look up from their screens and engage in conversation with those around them, you must model this behaviour yourself at home. Accept that this may make your life less convenient.
There's an app for that. Somewhat ironically, there are useful apps for setting limits on app usage, including the iPhone settings for screen time monitoring, which can be set to shut off after a certain time limit on an app has been used for the day. Bark is an app which helps parents to monitor social media use, where parents receive “snippets” of flagged content paired with recommendations from child psychologists on how best to react. The app doesn’t give parents blanket access to all of their children’s communications.
*I’m offering up a quick caveat here, some child monitoring apps have come under scrutiny for losing or leaking sensitive data. For example, MSpy leaked millions of sensitive records, including call logs, text messages and browser histories. So you would want to look for an app in which data held is encrypted.
Have an awareness of non-phone technologies that monitor the family home. Some seemingly harmless technologies can record children’s voices or images, such as Alexa devices, Ring doorbells, baby monitor cameras etc. which are potentially hackable. (I’m not an expert on this, so your own research is suggested!)
Schedule time away from phones. Setting times where phones are put away, such as dinner time, or for family outings, can help kids and adults to realise just how addictive our phones are, and become more wary of overusing them. Yonder pouch was recommended by a panellist, which locks up the phone safely for a period of time, and can be unlocked in emergencies.
Go analogue. Ask schools for a physical book list the parents can buy from, so a tablet is not required at home to study. Give kids a watch & agree to meet your child at a set time (like the old days).
Start a conversation with the school. Talk to other parents and the school PTA about your concerns, and consider having your own Wait until 8th pledge or similar within your community. Away for the day is an organisation which helps parents talk to schools about stopping mobile phone use during schooltime.
Discuss it with your kids and be willing to listen too. Ask them what they think the risks are around social media, using their phone too much. Talk to them about content such as airbrushed Instagram models and that YouTube celebrities are usually paid to talk about products on their channel which is called “sponsored content” to sell that brand of makeup/video game/app.
Set expectations but remain flexible. Write a contract with your kids which sets out rules for smart smartphone use, that they must agree to before they are issued a phone. Revise it as new apps are introduced and start a conversation with them before they even start accessing social media.
Continue to PART THREE - Common questions (Q&A)