• Abigail Corfield

Pt3 - Smartphones for kids and teenagers - a guide for parents (Part Three)

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 THREE - Q&A of relevant questions

What do difficulties do parents face in keeping up with evolving technology?

It is a challenge for parents to keep up with new apps, especially where there are rebands of apps (such as the infamous teenage dating app “Yellow”, which has now been renamed to Yubo). rebrands

Whilst it makes sense to set age boundaries for smartphone access, parents may find that one rule for all isn’t going to work, as the technology landscape changes so frequently. Age-appropriate use for a younger child relies on the technology & consequences of use remaining the same as when the older child was their age.

Of course, new apps and social media platforms are emerging all of the time. Therefore, parents should set expectations that they will ‘consider and reassess’ smartphone use at specific ages, but your decision will depend on what types of apps they will have access to, the responsibility and maturity of the child and whether the app can be monitored by an adult.

What about connectivity with relatives?

During the Wait until 8th conference, a speaker said something along the lines of “We’re not talking about FaceTiming your grandparents here…no one has a problem with that.”

However, I would be remiss to not step in here and say that we often believe that grooming behaviours and that predatory or abusive behaviour exist “out there” where the strangers are. That is not the case, sadly.

So a caveat that anyone facetiming or texting your child must do so appropriately, and ideally you have the ability to check on the conversations. Scheduling a FaceTime call as a whole family or where at least one adult present is recommended.

If there are no phones, what about safety?

Dumb phones (which only permit texts and phone calls) are a great alternative to allow for contact without the additional concerns of internet access.

Regarding emergencies which present a physical danger, such as a fire or an intruder, a phone can be distracting as kids try to text others or film the situation, rather than be aware of their surroundings and getting themselves out of danger. Discussing these scenarios in advance with your children and teens is recommended.

How can a parent enforce rules when a child already has access?

Much like any restrictions, it's always easier to enforce rules from the beginning. Therefore parents can expect pushback and tantrums when imposing restrictions if children have had unrestricted access to apps and devices. Having discussions with your kids around why you are choosing to limit their access, and giving them the opportunity to complain, protest and (hopefully) talk to you about their thoughts and feelings on the restrictions.

How does this relate to the UK?

The UK Government Online Harms White Paper (Published 12 February 2020) published by the UK government this year shares that nearly nine in ten UK adults are online and adult users spend around one day a week on the internet. This is also true for children and young people, with 99% of 12-15 year olds going online, spending an average of twenty and a half hours a week on the internet.

View the full whitepaper.

NSPCC estimates are based on the latest police recorded crime figures available (1 April 2019 – 30 June 2019) for England and Wales for Obscene Publication offences and Sexual Grooming offences. There was a combined average of 89.8 offences a day.

What about the tech companies? Don't they have a role to play?

This wasn’t covered within the talk, however the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) has raised a campaign called the Wild West Web, which focuses on passing laws which holds tech companies and their directors accountable for serious yet avoidable online grooming, including fines of up to €20 million and bans for boardroom directors.

You can read more about the campaign here.

Continue to PART FOUR - My own perspective and caveats.

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