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With the amount of digital technology sucking away our souls, we’re all becoming more like robots and our children deserve to be children for as long as possible. The longer we can delay them from adopting unhealthy and addictive cell phone habits, the better. What can we do as parents?
Use parental controls
Wait until 8th
Give them a dumb phone
I do it every day. As soon as I wake up, I grab my Smartphone. I check my email, scroll through Instagram, peruse Facebook and scour the internet for the latest celebrity national news stories. It’s not more than 20 minutes before I repeat that same cycle. And this routine plays out all day, every day for me.
The worst part? My children witness it and are being neglected as a result.
Don’t get me wrong. I take care of my children. But sometimes when they try to get my attention and I’m trapped in a social media vortex, I tell them to “Wait a minute” before I even look up from my phone. I hate it. I hate that I do this and it makes me feel like a horrible mom.
This isn’t the way it should be. It’s not the way I want it to be. But with the amount of digital technology sucking away our souls, we’re all becoming more like robots.
The truth is, we’re a society of addicts. That’s right - we should start having Addicts Anonymous meetings for grown ups who can’t put their devices down. Because ladies and gentlemen, we’re all way too detached from reality.
We’re so invested in what’s happening on the interwebs that we hardly focus on what’s happening in our own homes. And I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling that when I’m on my deathbed, I will deeply regret spending so much time on my phone and not as much time with my children.
We’re now at a point in society where we are passing along these same unhealthy habits to our children by giving them their own soul-sucking machines.
I don’t think technology and smartphones are all bad; devices help us stay connected to loved ones near and far and provide us with communities that keep us socially engaged. But is giving your child a cell phone at a young age a good idea? According to experts, no.
What starts as innocently giving our children cell phones can become something called Problematic Internet Use (PIU). AAP Pediatrician Dr. David Hill suggests that this results from compulsive behavior in children.
If they are too busy on their phones, things like homework, family time, physical activity and sleep are often overlooked. Children are missing out on the important parts of adolescence by investing way too much time in technology.
Unsurprisingly, this overindulgence is affecting our youth negatively when it comes to their mental health. The American Psychological Association found that surveys of children in grades 8th through 12th demonstrated a decrease in psychological well-being among adolescents with excessive use of technological devices.
Consequently, this can lead to increased rates of depression and suicide among children.
On the other hand, children and families who invested more time in offline activities like sports, face-to-face interaction and attending religious services were less likely to experience mental health issues. Both children and adults need to focus more on these types of activities. They keep us better connected to others, ourselves and the world we live in.
Honestly, I don’t think we even need research or studies to recognize the risks of too much cell phone activity. As a smartphone addicted adult myself, I am able to identify the ways I am negatively impacted from too much use.
The comparison game is a game that we all play, but none of us win. We see other moms’ Instagram feeds, looking all happy and clean and appearing as though they have their sh*t together, making us feel like the ultimate #momfail of the year.
We follow celebrities with their rock hard abs, blindingly white teeth and perfectly coiffed locks. Hey, J Lo, screw you. When we spend too much time on social media, it makes us feel bad about ourselves - as women, as men, as parents, and as people.
We stop appreciating what we have and start longing for the things we see on other people’s Facebook pages - things that are, in reality, not real at all.
Addiction is just one potential risk that comes with giving children cell phones. There is also the possibility that they will be exposed to overly sexual content. Jesse Weinberger, an author and internet safety speaker, told the New York Times that after surveying 70,000 children, most began sexting in 5th grade and were exposed to pornography by eight years old.
This means that children are essentially becoming sexually “engaged” before they even hit middle school. As a mom, this is terrifying.
I want to protect my children and help them develop healthy outlooks on sex. Knowing they could be exposed to pornographic content via friends is something that makes me want to down a bottle of wine!
It is this very exposure to sexually explicit content that is contributing to lower self-esteem in young girls and more sexually active teens - as young as 13 years old. And while we can’t completely prevent our children from being exposed to sexual content, or becoming sexually active, there are two things we can do to limit their exposure and create a healthier perception of sex.
Use parental controls when available
Whether it’s on a computer, a smartphone or another device, block any channels, apps or websites that could put your children at risk of seeing inappropriate content.
Have a discussion with your children
The “birds & the bees” talk is a dreaded one for most parents, but it’s still our job to have it. During this discussion, talk about pornography and the way it is an unhealthy and unrealistic way to view sex. Children will likely come across porn at some time in their life, so the sooner they learn about its damaging effects, the less likely they might be to actually view it.
Now that the mood has officially been brought down, let’s get back up to a happy place (sorry, not the liquor store)… just for a moment.
Because while smartphones come with a laundry list of negative effects on children, there are benefits to giving your child a phone. The most obvious perk is that they can contact you in case of an emergency. And if you need to get in touch with them while they are away, you have a way to do that. You don’t need fancy apps and games in order for your child to have a cell phone.
In fact, licensed psychologist Mike Brooks, Ph. D., suggests parents get their children a “dumb phone” - one with limited functionality - instead of a smartphone. These do still exist and are a great way to let your children get their feet wet and test their level of responsibility. The basic features usually allow children to make phone calls and text but don’t have addictive games or unnecessary apps that would distract your children.
Giving them a “dumb phone” helps your children develop autonomy without being exposed to the dangers of technology. Once they have demonstrated that they can be trusted with a phone, they can move up to a smartphone when you believe they are ready.
So what age is the right age to give your child a “dumb phone?” Brooks suggests 7th or 8th grade. This is the age he thinks is acceptable to test the waters.
Wait Until 8th
Like Mike Brooks, there is a group of parents who believe that children should refrain from having a phone until at least 8th grade. The Wait Until 8th campaign, which is based out of Austin, TX, “empowers parents to rally together to delay giving children a smartphone until at least 8th grade.”
The mission of Wait Until 8th is a good one, not just because it delays cell phone use for children, but also because it takes the pressure off parents who feel guilty when their children ask for a phone before 8th grade. There is power in numbers and this is important when it comes to parenting. (It takes a village, people!) If you want to sign the Wait Until 8th pledge, go to https://www.waituntil8th.org
The fact that I only checked my phone once or twice while writing this article is amazing. And also really sad. The longer we can delay our children from adopting unhealthy and addictive cell phone habits, the better.
Our children deserve to be children for as long as possible. While they might beg and plead for a cell phone at a very young age, they will thank us later for not giving in too soon.