As a adult without children, I am often approached by parents seeking advice on whether or not to buy smartphones for their kids. Although I am not a parent myself, I have engaged in lengthy discussions on this topic and ways to help children embrace the positive aspects of technology while avoiding its potential pitfalls. It is clear that many kids today have access to smartphones and tablets at a young age, and parents are understandably concerned about the impact of technology on their children's development. The prevalence of these devices makes it challenging for parents to navigate the benefits and drawbacks of technology use. The decision can be difficult, and there are compelling arguments on both sides of the issue.
Upon listening to episode 246 of the Deep Questions podcast with Cal Newport, I felt compelled to write this post. Newport provides a comprehensive analysis of the history of smartphones and minors, highlighting the evolution of attitudes towards technology from adoption to awareness of its potential negative impacts. I highly recommend listening to his insights, particularly for parents or those planning to become parents. Newport's expertise on the subject can provide a valuable framework for approaching the topic of smartphone use from birth to adolescence.
The Crux: Does your kid need a phone?
The decision of when to give a child a smartphone is a difficult one that many parents struggle with. While recent research suggests waiting until the age of 16 for unrestricted smartphone access, there are still differing opinions on the matter. Some argue that children can benefit from early exposure to technology, which can help them develop digital literacy and communication skills. Additionally, smartphones can provide a sense of safety and security for children who may need to contact their parents or medical services in case of an emergency.
I argue that the decision to allow a child to have a phone should not be solely based on their age or what their friends are doing, but on what kind of lifestyle and habits parents want to instill in their family. Imposing societal or peer pressure is not the way to go. For instance, my parents chose not to give me a Playstation console (even though I begged them for a whole year) for one of my early birthdays because they wanted me to read more and participate in sports instead of spending hours in front of the TV playing games. You could argue this stopped me from becoming a top earner in the nascent field of eSports. However, I turned out fine and got a decent job.
Similarly, parents should make informed decisions that reflect their values and the kind of lifestyle they hope to shape for their children. In the end, parents know their children better than anyone else, and they should trust their own judgment when it comes to the use of technology.
Parents, moreover, should be an example. It is easy to deny someone of their ability to use technology because you are the adult in the room. However, as human beings, we mimic behaviors from those around us. Parents that don't want their children to use a phone or use it constantly should model the behavior they expect to see in their children. This means parents need to be aware of their own technology usage and set limits on their own phone and social media use. It's difficult for children to understand the importance of moderation if they observe their parents constantly on their phones or engaged in social media. By setting an example of healthy technology use, parents can encourage their children to adopt similar behaviors.
Here are some guiding questions that can help you decide:
What is the primary purpose of giving my child a phone?
Is my child mature enough to handle the responsibility that comes with owning a phone?
How will my child use the phone? Will they have unlimited internet access or restricted access?
How will I monitor my child's phone use to ensure they are safe and not exposed to harmful content?
What are the potential negative impacts of giving my child a phone, and how can I minimize them?
After going through multiple conversations with your partner on the matter, stick to your decision and work towards goals that can help your children develop offline skills and behaviors that reflect your family’s values.
As children grow up, they will inevitably be exposed to technology in many aspects of their lives, including school and educational resources. However, it is important to encourage children to also engage in offline activities to develop a well-rounded skill set. Activities such as reading, art, and physical exercise can help develop cognitive abilities and motor skills that cannot be gained solely from the online world.
Parents can explore free programs in their local area to encourage their children to spend time developing these abilities. Local libraries often offer programs such as story times, art classes, and sports teams that little ones and adolescents can participate in. These programs provide an opportunity for children to socialize with peers and develop skills that will serve them well in the future. By encouraging a healthy balance between online and offline activities, parents can help their children lead a well-rounded and fulfilling life.
To further encourage parents to engage their children in offline activities, it's important to remember that they can participate in these activities with their kids. Creating an environment that fosters offline activities can include eating meals without the TV, playing board games, or working on a puzzle together. These activities provide opportunities for parents to bond with their children and create lasting memories.
My Kid is Ready for a Phone! Which One?
Choosing the right phone for a child is a crucial decision for parents. While there are many options available in the market, it is essential to choose a phone that meets the child's needs while keeping their safety and well-being in mind. One of the best options for young children is a feature phone. These phones have limited features, including basic calling and texting capabilities, but they do not offer internet access. The Sunbeam F1, Light Phone 2, Wisephone, Gabb, or Kosher phones (DUMBPHONE15 for $15 off) allow for the basics to be accessed without a browser which is one of the culprits of high screen time.
These devices ensure that the child is not exposed to the dangers of the internet, such as cyberbullying, sexting, or exposure to inappropriate content. Feature phones also tend to be more affordable, making them a cost-effective option for parents who want to provide their children with a communication device without the risks associated with smartphones. There may be other options that are cheaper (like the TCL Flip 2), but you will have to customize them yourself.
After demonstrating responsible and mature behavior, young adults can be guided to reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of owning a smartphone. It's important to ask questions that help them understand their motivations for wanting a smartphone, such as whether it's because of peer pressure or actual necessity. By fostering healthy habits over the long term, they will be better equipped to make an informed decision and adjust accordingly. Parents can also provide guidance on choosing a smartphone that aligns with their child's needs and priorities, such as a phone with limited internet access or features that promote productivity and creativity rather than social media and gaming. Ultimately, the decision to give a smartphone to a young adult should be based on their individual needs and circumstances, rather than societal pressure or age-based metrics.
I understand that as a young adult without children, my perspective on parenting may be limited. However, through my conversations with multiple parents and my own observations, I have found that incorporating some of the principles discussed can lead to a happier relationship with their families. It is important for parents to consider their own values and the type of lifestyle they want to instill in their children before making decisions about technology use. By focusing on these goals, parents can make informed decisions about when and how to introduce technology to their children.
Encouraging children to engage in offline activities is one way parents can create a healthy balance between technology use and other aspects of life. Reading books, participating in sports, doing puzzles, and attending local library programs are just a few examples of offline activities that can help children develop important skills and provide bonding opportunities for families. It is important for parents to model these behaviors themselves and create an environment that fosters these activities. By doing so, parents can show their children that technology is just one aspect of life, and that there are many other worthwhile activities to enjoy.
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A thoughtful article. As a parent, the smartphone question is simple. NO. Personally, the digital literacy argument is not sufficient. Technology is designed to be so easy to use these days that it's addictive. My children are still young and when they pick up a tablet of a family member or a video game of a cousin they figure it out instantly. We do not have what I call "personal devices" (ipads/phones/handheld gaming systems) for our kids. We have a shared media center which is a TV connected to a PC where we watch some shows. They will be guided in age appropriate use of the internet on a computer as they get older. I mean, the internet is an amazing resource for learning after all! We won't totally be depriving them of technology but it's obvious they thrive without it. When they are older and as need arises (see the word NEED not want) we might consider a call only type phone. As if it were a landline but I don't even know if those exist in my area anymore. I'll stop here but I'm passionate on this topic and I hate to see the depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues in friends and families kiddos who are growing up in this era of everyone having a phone. (oh and yes, parents leading by example is key.)