Smartphones and Kids: Worth the Wait

I grew up in the technology boom, fascinated by all the latest and greatest things from accessible cell phones to Friendster (totally dating myself) – and have loved every second of it. My personal and professional lives have been forever changed by the evolution of technology, and I’m thrilled that my kids will have access to these incredibly powerful devices and tools – eventually. It’s no secret that kids are getting their very own smartphones younger and younger, with a 2016 Influence Central poll showing that the average age kids get their own smartphones in the United States is 4th grade. Parents I speak with frequently cite pressure as the main reason they’re caving younger and younger, with one mom once telling me her social group concluded that it was “social suicide” if their kids didn’t have their own smartphone by 5th grade. Sigh.

Last spring, a group of parents created the Wait Until 8th campaign, a pledge for parents to sign agreeing to hold off getting their kids smartphones until 8th grade. This prompted a lot of great discussions around when and why kids are getting smartphones so young, and also gave a lot of parents who were waiting to get their kids smartphones support to hold off. While smartphones have provided us – kids included – with some undeniably wonderful tools, it doesn’t mean that elementary school kids should be walking around with their very own. Let’s explore some of the reasons you should consider Waiting Until 8th with your kids.

1. Developmentally, kids’ brains aren’t wired to handle the social and emotional complexities that come along with having these devices 24/7.
Kids now are born digital natives. With technology all around them, I know many parents who are overwhelmed by the fact that their kids are far savvier when it comes to the latest and greatest in tech. However, it doesn’t mean that they’re prepared to handle the social and emotional components that come hand-in-hand with having their own. With social media and connectivity being among the most popular activities for kids, the complex nature of privacy settings, friending, chatting, liking, approving, and sharing can be overwhelming and too much for kids (adults even) to handle.

2. There’s too much awesome stuff offline to miss out on.
Truth be told, you couldn’t pay me a million dollars to go back and repeat middle school; the social scenes, changing bodies, hormones, developing identities, pressure, crushes, boys, girls…AWKWARD. That said, they were crucial years for developing some necessary life skills: learning how to form relationships, deal with conflict, be social, play sports, be involved in school activities, enjoy field days, and eat lunch in the cafeteria perfecting the important craft of trading lousy snacks for good ones. Recently I visited a middle school where I walked into a 6th grade lunch that was eerily quiet. It didn’t take long to figure out why – they were allowed to use their phones during lunchtime, and 95% of them were transfixed on their devices. Kids need a lot of time to be active outside, play, interact face-to-face with their peers, spend family time, develop social queues, deal with in-person conflict – all very important life skills they’re missing out on if their noses are buried in their phones 6+ hours a day.

3. Addiction is a real issue.
Most of us don’t have to look beyond device usage in our own households to know that tech addiction is a real thing. If you needed the numbers to back it up, I could throw you plenty of stats, including a recent study by Common Sense Media finding that fifty percent of teens feel they are addicted to their devices. While many families have successfully set appropriate parameters to help their kids have a healthy relationship with their devices, it’s really hard to control and monitor – especially when oftentimes our own device (over)use isn’t particularly healthy. Out of the hundreds of families I’ve talked to that gave their kids smartphones early on, many express regret handing them over so early.

Much like cars, smartphones are incredibly powerful and convenient; however, we don’t hand the keys over to our 5th graders for many reasons – and smartphones should be no different. Need an alternative? FLIP PHONES – yes, they STILL exist! Flip phones provide them with an appropriate tool to get in touch with family, friends, and have in case of an emergency – without having an overwhelmingly powerful, time-consuming outlet to the world. Technology has and will continue to enhance our lives and our children’s lives, but it’s our responsibility early on to set them up for a successful, productive relationship with these tools. By Waiting Until 8th, we’re pledging to support each other in giving our kids their own smartphones when it’s most developmentally and emotionally appropriate.