Does your kid want a mobile phone, smartwatch or their own iPad? One mother discusses the danger of giving kids access to devices too early and why she thinks they should come with a health warning!
“Mom, when can I have a phone? All my friends have one. I’m the only one in my class who doesn’t have a phone.”
Heard this before? I sure have! When my girl, Lula, was in fifth grade and ten years old, this was about ALL I heard. Week in. Week out. Eventually, she wore us down. We felt guilty. She’s so social. Were we keeping her from her friends unnecessarily? So my husband and I started the conversation. “Is it time? How will we control a phone? How much freedom should she have?”
And just as we were on the brink of setting up one of our own phones for her… I panicked! What were we thinking? This one little decision would open a whole new world. A world that would be filled with arguing and monitoring and grounding and worrying about who she was texting and what she was deleting, etc.
So before we jumped into this new territory, I simply asked. I was on a text string with about 50 other parents from Lula’s school. There were a variety of ages represented in that chat group, and the resounding answer was: WAIT AS LONG AS YOU CAN!!! Many said as soon as you open that door, there’s no going back! And what a painful and annoying door it is to walk through!
Read more: Parent Resources: Guide to Kids Internet Safety, Social Media & Screen Time
Then I asked all the parents from Lula’s class that were in another chat group. The resounding answer: No, my kid doesn’t have a phone yet. This was the class that “everyone has a phone” in. Strange. And so we held off and peace was restored to the home… especially since I had firsthand research to back me up!
Phone restrictions, time limits and breaking rules
Then we moved house and moved schools and Lula struggled more than any of us. So we addressed the phone issue again. We wanted her to be able to stay in touch with her old friends and be able to easily connect to new friends. We put restrictions on her phone, gave her boundaries, set up a schedule for when she could use it, etc.
And she broke every single rule we set up. She found ways around getting apps that we didn’t approve of even though we’d taken the app store off of her phone. I constantly had to hunt her phone down and get her off of it and fight with her about going over her time limit. We grounded her from her phone multiple times for breaking the rules.
Finally we gave her one last chance and even wrote out a very serious, in-depth contract that she had to read out loud and sign. She broke several rules again within the week. And what was worse, her attitude was the pits! She was miserable to be around. So mouthy we could hardly stand her.
So I finally said enough. We took her phone away indefinitely. Clearly she wasn’t mature enough to handle it yet.
Read more: Skip the Selfies: The Psychological Effect of Social Media on Kids
The results? We now are the proud parents of a completely different child! She is actually fun to be around now. We enjoy each other and have so much fun together. Not every second of the day, obviously. But if you could see the night and day difference, you would never give your child a phone!
Sending pictures over text message
We still let her text her friends on my phone, which is a huge pain! But the tradeoff is so much better. I’m willing to deal with it to have a sweet, kind, and present girl. And even with that, I still have to be vigilant. Just today I read through a string of texts between her and a boy who is a couple of grades older than her. They’ve just become friends and have started texting. You know what he asked her? “Hey, let’s send funny pictures of ourselves to each other. I can’t think of a better game to play together on text.”
RED ALERT! RED ALERT! RED ALERT!
The rest of the message was completely innocent after that… as were the pictures they sent back and forth, but you better believe she won’t be texting that kid anymore! And we’re going to have a very serious conversation about sending pictures of oneself across text and what that can lead to!
Read more: Why You Should Talk to Your Kids About Sexting & Porn
Here’s the thing… You are the parent. The adult. Your brain is fully developed and matured. Of course you’ll keep learning throughout your life. But the government has decided you’re old enough and wise enough to drive a car. To vote. To buy a house. To have a job. To use tobacco and alcohol wisely if you choose to.
A child is not given these rights by the government because their brains are still developing. They do not have the reasoning skills, the wisdom, or the maturity that comes with life to make such decisions.
You have the wisdom to know that when someone wants to start sending pictures back and forth, that something not so great could come from that! An 11-year-old does not.
Devices should come with warnings
They do not have the wisdom to make good decisions about a tool like a phone or iPad or laptop. Devices should come with warnings. If they did, it would look something like this:
WARNING: Use at your own risk. This device can cause addictive behaviors that lead to a passive lifestyle. This device will consume your time and make you forget how to entertain yourself and use your own brain. This device will make you cranky and disrespectful of authority if you use it too much. Some of the applications on this device will cause you to judge yourself next to others and have the potential of making you self-conscious and insecure. It might even lead to promiscuity or to an addiction to pornography or other harmful behaviors.
Honestly, if you read a warning label like that, would you give that product to your precious child?
We’re worried about feeding our children high fructose corn syrup but we’re willing to give them access to a device that can open potentially dangerous doors and later wonder why everything is falling apart. Then we shrug our shoulders and say, “Oh well! What can I do now? It’s a pain but it’s the times we’re living in.”
When did you lose control of what happens in your house? When did you decide that a device… an electronic, non-feeling, device was going to control your children and your life?
I know it’s hard! It’s still a constant battle in my house. We’re not doing it perfectly. It’s not just the phone. It’s also the TV and YouTube videos and Kindles and Facebook Messenger for kids, which they can now access on their Kindles, and their Chromebooks or iPads for school…
Using Pinterest to watch TikTok videos
Did you know that you can watch TikTok videos on Pinterest? I didn’t until I noticed that Lula was turning her Kindle Fire (a “safe” kids’ device) screen away from me every time I walked into the room and investigated. What I thought was an innocent application where she could find craft and art ideas turned out to be another vehicle to watch TikTok videos about how to get your crush to notice you.
The list goes on and on, and it’s overwhelming. So overwhelming that it’s super easy to just throw your hands in the air in surrender.
We can’t live without technology. It’s the hardest thing in the world to monitor and control. So what can we do? How do we protect our children while preparing them for this technological age we’re living in? Where’s the balance?
I don’t have the answers. Every child is different and will be drawn to different devices, apps, and issues. And before you judge Lula and assume she’s a naughty, disobedient child, think again. She’s a very responsible, sweet, independent girl. But if you throw a kid in a candy store and tell them they can have whatever they want, what do you think will happen? And then if you say, oh wait, you can only have these sour candies over here. Don’t touch anything else. How long will they be able to resist when you walk out of the store and aren’t paying attention?
Children are still in the training process. In the growing up and maturing process. Don’t give them too much before they’re ready. Let the rope out slowly. Don’t give them the rope all at once or they’ll end up getting tangled in it and might even strangle themselves.
You’re the parent. You have the final say. You know best. And that’s what I know for sure.