Executive Summary: kids and a cell phone… bad idea.
I get it. “We can’t organize all of our activities without a phone.” “My kid is different; they only use it for calling me.” “If my kid doesn’t have a phone, they will be picked on.” “Smart Phones are not as bad as everyone says.” “In an emergency, my kid can get help immediately.” All of these statements are decent arguments for a cell phone for a child at a reasonable age. The question is, what is the reasonable age? I believe the negative impacts of a child having a cell phone before the age of 16 far outweighs the positive.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I can’t get through to my teenager,” “All my kid does is play video games,” “I can’t even talk to him anymore,” “My kid wants to stay in their room and never talk to me,” “My daughter hates our family,” or something very similar? I bite my tongue each time I hear this from parents because I want to ask, “Do you wonder why you have lost your kid?” I quickly want to follow up with, “Are you willing to do what is necessary to fix your family?”
If you give your child a smartphone, you are giving them to Apple, Google, ABC, CBS, HBO, etc. who will quickly become their greatest influencer. My father always said you become who you hang out with. Are you sure these companies have your child’s best interest in mind? Their agendas might not match yours as a parent. Are you ready to give your influence with your kids to them?
It is important to remember their phone will always be there for them. They will always find someone who is up and ready to talk. They will always have something to fill a quiet time in their life. Can you compete with awesome graphics, great music, fantasy worlds, gossip, and the latest fashionable pop star? No. You can’t and you never will.
What do you offer to compete with what a phone brings them? Taking out the garbage? Cleaning up after dinner? Doing laundry? Talking with you? Boring. Let’s face it, your playlist will never be as exciting as iTunes and taking out the garbage will never be shared a million times.
So, you are at a crossroads.
If your kids already have phones (Booooo)
If your kids already have phones, the most impactful thing you can do is install software that allows you to control the content, the amount of time, and the type of communication they have with the world outside of your domain. You really can’t care how your kids feel about it. This is your decision as a parent. Maybe your kids are perfect and will say, “Thanks mom for forcing me to interact with people in my everyday life.” Most likely, they will be very pissed at you. So be it. You are the parent. This will not be the last time they feel angst towards you! Taking your kids to the doctor’s office for shots when they were little isn’t something kids like, but you did it for their good. This is your modern-day version of the measles shot. Just Do it.
If your kids don’t have phones. (Yay)
If you are the parent of younger children, I will encourage you to buck the trend and keep your kids as technology free as possible until the very last minute. There is nothing wrong with schools introducing technology as part of any educational process; however, I am talking about kids having access to their own iPad / iPhone / i(whatever) at home. It is just not a good idea.
According to Dr. Victoria L. Dunckley M.D, she observes “many of the children [she] sees suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyper-aroused nervous system, regardless of diagnosis — what [she] calls electronic screen syndrome. “ Is there any surprise when the average child clocks in more than seven hours of screen time per day? (Rideout 2010)
“What I do with my kids is my business.”
Yep, it is none of my business, and I can only influence my family. I understand I can’t control your family or remove the phone from your kid’s hands. I want to explain why I have come to believe screen time is the number one threat to our family structure today.
- Kids with significant use of screens of any type have a higher risk of being sleep deprived. We all know the impact of losing sleep. If you are a parent of a young child, you get it. Kids who are unable to get good solid rest are less resilient, have a more difficult time solving complex problems and can do more poorly in school.
- Higher Risk of gaining weight. According to some studies, kids who spend more time sedentary will consume more calories than those who don’t sit around. Exercising with a screen in front of your face is tough.
- A reduced ability to understand visual cues from real people. According to a study completed by the UCLA “published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, found that sixth-graders who went five days without exposure to technology were significantly better at reading human emotions than kids who had regular access to phones, televisions, and computers.” What is the effect after ten years? In some cases, we don’t know yet.
- You are taking your kid to the bar at the age of 13. Would you take your young child and sit them at the local tavern and have them talk to anyone who shows up? Of course not. In the online world, you have zero control of who shows up to befriend, talk, persuade, influence, and potentially harm your kid.
- The big corporations don’t have your kid’s best interest at heart. The ‘gamification’ of all activities on the tables is not by accident. People who ‘check-in’ for imaginary dollars or to be the ‘mayor of a city’ are being played by highly skilled companies to maximize eye-ball time. The value your child brings to a company like Google / Facebook / etc. is the time spent on the site. Do you think a company like Apple cares about how you are raising your kid? They do not.
What can I do as a parent?
Realize it is okay to not be okay with your child having a phone. It doesn’t make you uncool. Well, you might feel like ‘that parent;’ however, do you want to raise well-adjusted, talented kids? Do you want your kids to move out and be capable of surviving on their own? Of course, you do. Make the tough decisions.
- Limit exposure your kids do have to screens under very controlled circumstances. Don’t worry about your kids ‘inability’ to be qualified when they get older. The User Interfaces we have today will not even be around in five years. Artificial Intelligence and Facial Recognition will create interactions with technology dramatically differently. They will not be missing out.
- Find comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Hundreds of thousands of families continue to make the tough decision not to allow their kids to be online without supervision. If you are feeling alone, join one of 1000 Facebook Groups where this sort of question is asked and answered. You will find hundreds of men and women who support you.
- Put your phone down too. Disengaging from technology and spending time listening to your kids will do wonders for your family. Period. Surprise your spouse and leave the house without your phone. Watch their eyes. 🙂
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