Kids on technoogy

It’s time for a Change in Mindset

My child’s mental health is important to me. I was very proud of myself for partnering with a fellow parent to hold out on giving our boy’s cell phones. As parents, we struggle with the fear of our children being left out, “the only one” without a phone. I knew as long as this mom and I held firm to our promise, our sons would have each other to “commiserate” with.

Eventually we both decided it was time and gifted a smart phone to our kids. I thought I was prepared. I’d done all the research on parental controls, filtering, screen time and monitoring. I didn’t realize then, that this would be a major source of contention between my son and I. Constantly navigating conversations explaining that I do trust him (even though I track his location and monitor his use). Working together to set screen times rules, giving him opportunities to prove he could self-regulate (although never when it comes to content filtering). Taking the phone away at family gatherings or during time with friends IRL. And constantly updating the settings so that screen time and monitoring are working the way they should. It became a part time job and sometimes still is.

I urge those of you who are considering getting your child a smart phone to start changing the mindset that children need or should have this powerful device in their possession.

What occurred in the 2000’s that caused children to start owning cell phones?

The only thing I can find through my research, is that smartphones became less expensive to own. Is that a good enough reason for our children to own one? Especially in light of what we are learning about anxiety, depression, addiction and other harmful factors?

Were we sold a lie through marketing, like when the tobacco industries targeted teens?   How did this become something we accept as normal?

Even when I was growing up with a house phone, the primary reason for a phone was in case of an emergency. My hours of conversations with friends were not why we had a phone, and I could be booted off for any reason. My father was one of the first people I recall having a car phone and later a cell phone for work purposes. I didn’t feel like I was entitled to a cell phone, as a child or adult, nor did I have a need for it.

Today’s smartphones are hardly even used for verbal conversing, they are portable computers that are more powerful than the machines that landed man on the moon decades ago. And yet we feel it’s appropriate to give one to children?

Pediatricians around the globe warn putting screens in our kids’ bedrooms, encourage exercise and eating together as a family. Today’s devices support none of these healthy habits for kids.

When did it become appropriate to give children anything because it was possible or affordable? Beer is cheap, does that mean children should be allowed it? We can watch R rated movies for low cost at home, should we allow our ten-year old’s to watch those? Unlike unhealthy fast food, which actually is cheaper than eating healthy – not giving our kids a device is the cheaper alternative!

Why is it okay for safeguarding and legislation not to prioritize keeping our children safe?

With all the research being done about the dangers of technology, including suicide and depression, why are we parents accepting that it’s solely our responsibility to keep our children safe? For over a decade, technology companies have been hiring psychologists to study the human brain, so that the technology is so addictive that we, as adults struggle to find balance. Their sole goal is to keep us on devices.

With this powerful addictive nature and increased access to mature content, you’d think there would be a more appropriate age restriction for apps and devices. Have you noticed how many apps say age 4+? You’d think that the companies would be held accountable for setting and enforcing appropriate age limits to keep our children safe. However, for the most part, blocking content etc. falls on the parents.

A phone with Wi-Fi access comes with full access to anything on the internet. A child with sufficient funds can purchase a phone without an adult. There is no age limit, other than having to be 18 to enter into a contract. Let’s think about that, minors do not have the legal capacity or in other words cannot understand the implications of a contract, but they can have access to all violence, pornography, addictive material, persuasive marketing and more without concern? The PG-13 rating indicates that a movie may not be suitable for kids under age 13 due to language, violence, nudity, and other mature content, yet sixty percent of 10 and 11-year old’s have a phone. There is no information sold with the phone on how to keep your child safe, no warning label “DANGER – this device is addictive”, and no preset rules or safe setting for younger owners.

They cannot legally work, drive, vote, gamble, smoke, drink, enter into a contract or have sex, but there is nothing keeping them safe from accessing pornography, addictive games, social media and more on a phone, other than the parents.

The world is danGerous, it’s For safety.

We as parents love our children so intensely, that the fear of something bad happening to them can be paralyzing. It’s under this guise that we convince ourselves that our children need a phone to keep them safe. But in truth, many times it’s to ease our own anxiety. The world can be dangerous, but like emotions, it’s impossible to block out the bad without blocking the good.

No one wants or deserves to be tracked all the time. Unless you’re out on parole and must prove to the court that you can be trusted again. It’s our right to be free. It implies that we don’t trust our children to be where they say they’re going to be. It removes the need for clear communication on pick up times and locations. Worst of all it inhibits our children’s ability to build resilience and problem solve.

I’m positive there are exceptions to this, but in general, there’s no reason your child needs to have a phone at school where there’s a school phone and trained adults in the event of an emergency. They don’t need a phone while at a friend’s house where there’s an adult with a phone to reach you. If you don’t trust the adult, then perhaps you should consider your child not staying there. There are opportunities for your child to grow, every time they can’t call to you for help.

Extracurricular schedules don’t warrant needing a phone either. A clear plan on time and location of pick up can be arranged. Sometimes things will change or be misunderstood, it’s okay if you need to wait a little longer before meeting up. Sometimes the predetermined place might not be available, and your child may need to navigate another place to meet you or how to reach you. This develops problem solving skills. Children can learn trust, by you showing up when and where you saying you’re going to, and vice versa. Do not sacrifice your child’s mental health because of convenience.

it’s how My child socializes or comBats boredom

Yes, there is no denying that technology can help us stay in touch with loved ones far away or during a pandemic, but it is never as good as real-life connection. Especially during the childhood and adolescent years, when they are trying to find their place in the world. Navigating friendships, hormones and emotions is hard enough face to face with eye contact, social cues and doses of oxytocin. I’ve seen so many things be misunderstood or blow up simply because the value of human-to-human connection isn’t available online.

Children learn through play, through resolving conflict, they get creative when bored. Balance, coordination, social queues, emotional regulation are all learned in a very messy, not quiet, or easy manner. They push boundaries, learn who they are, learn who they can trust, learn what they’re capable of all through play and pushing the boundaries with their trusted parents. They learn patience on that long car ride, or invent a new game, they learn what their sibling’s hot button is and how to rebuild the relationship after pushing it. All things that are missed when staring at a screen.   

I’m worried they will fall behind on technology

Have you ever seen a 2, 4, 8, 10 16-year-old pick up a device for the first time? Unlike early computers, today’s technology is so intuitive, I don’t worry about kids falling behind. I also hear parents worry about teaching their kids good technology habits early. Generally, I believe that if you teach your child to value their worth, be in tune with their emotions, thoughts and needs, make intelligent decisions and be a kind human being in the real world, they will have a healthier experience on devices when it is age appropriate. It all starts with the human behind the screen. The longer we can delay their exposure to screens, the more time they have to figure out who they are.

Not my kid

I too can suffer from the delusion that my children, my neighborhood, my school, my church, etc. are all immune to the problems of the world. Nobody expects that “it” can happen to them. But it can, and as long as we are equipping children with powerful handheld computers and giving them access to everything on the internet, without any accountability from government or technology companies, it will continue to happen.