When should we give our children smart phones?
For many families Christmas is a time for decisions about getting children their own smartphones as they end primary school and start year 7.
While the rest of us ponder the right age, there is a lot of media highlighting that tech gurus in Silicon Valley have tight restrictions and surprisingly high ages for letting smart phones and computers into their children’s hands. However, 15000 kms away my teens not having access to a mobile phone seems as likely a situation as snow in Perth at Christmas.
My husband and I probably have similar worries to you about smart phones. We have two younger teens and struggle like many parents to know how to parent in a way that gives our children the freedom and independence they want with the boundaries they need with the least impact on our sanity and the mental wellbeing of our girls.
I understand that smartphone messaging apps, social media platforms, gaming, etc are designed to be highly addictive. I also despair at the fake world that my girls are exposed to and the fact that a “photoshoot” is no longer just done by magazines and models but happens in my bathroom, pool deck and local park by my girls and their friends on a regular basis.
I also understand that for better and worse, smartphones are a part of the cultural life of my children in the same way TV was for me and my generation. I remember a conversation with a work colleague several years ago where he told me about the impact of growing up without a TV. He remembers feeling out of the loop and seen as a social leper by his friends.
However, as a mum and as an educator, my primary concern with all these platforms is what we call in our house the “Wall-e Effect.” You may recall that in the movie, Wall-e where the human civilisation took to space ships until the Earth was cleaned up by Wall-e type robots and made habitable again. In order to keep everyone occupied they lay on hovercraft beds being entertained until over generations they lost their ability to walk.
While certainly not as dramatic, I do despair that our children are loosing their ability to be bored and many need to be entertained all the time. Charles Dickens once said “procrastination is the thief of time.” Can you imagine what he would say if he lived today?
My fellow Strength Hero, Victoria, my husband (who has never owned a mobile), my teens and their friends and myself have put together some thoughts. Be aware some of these are things we have learnt and wish we had have done earlier. Also remember, you need to do what works for your family.
Talk to your children – ask them questions and engage in conversation about the reality of social media influencer. Let your children know that they are not always going to be up like in social media world. Being sad, angry, confused and doubting yourself is normal and must be worked through while staying true to yourself and not believing everything you see and are told.
Set boundaries – we give our girl fifteen minutes when she gets home get home from school then again at 6pm and then for a bit at night before it’s switched off well before bed time. Many families don’t allow any social media at night, set passwords on devices and monitor apps they are using. We have a rule that their social media apps are accessible by me and I can go in and look at messages and conversations.
Begin as you wish to continue – I wish we had waited and started my girls use of social media at the end of year 7 because looking back I realise now that both my girls in year 6 had a completely different brain and impulse control than in year 7.
Leave devices in a central public place in the house and keep devices out of room, bathrooms and toilets (yes toilets!) and off the dinner table.
Impose time outs and if needed turn off the internet. You may need to provide some alternatives as to what they could do or just let them get bored and see what they do.
Role model. I left this to last because as we know children learn the most by watching us. Victoria just put me on to an app called Your Hour which helps me monitor my smartphone and app usage. There is a timer that appears, so I am aware of what I am doing. There is also a little turtle that appears when you have been on for a while and encourages you to take it slow after a defined time. Not for everyone but awareness is one of the keys to changing behaviour.
This is a hot topic and people will have definite views that may differ from ours so we would love to hear what you do in your house.