Wanted: Parents who agree to 'Wait Until Eighth'
Last updated 10/17/2019 at 12:03am | View PDF
Just a few days into fifth grade and the daily petitions have begun.
Ainsley NEEDS a cellphone, she tells me. EVERYONE else in her grade has one.
Ainsley clearly wants a cellphone, and I know for a fact several kids in her grade have one. But that isn’t a strong enough argument for me to get her one — not when she’s 10 years old.
I had hoped to find some fellow parents who would be willing to take the “Wait Until Eighth” pledge with me, but I’ve been too frightened to actually approach anyone about it. Even those who haven’t already bought a phone for their kids seem resigned to the fact that they will soon.
I thought I might be able to find some good advice online about the best age to begin phone ownership. The two first websites I checked — WebMD and Common Sense Media — were noncommittal.
WebMD encouraged parents to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision. Thanks, Captain Obvious.
Even commonsensemedia.org, a site I appreciate for its assessments of movies, apps and other entertainment, refused to commit.
“Parents really need to consider whether their kids are ready to use their phones responsibly and respectfully,” the site concluded.
Yes, I know. Not helpful.
The only definitive guidelines I found were in a story about Bill Gates, who didn’t let his children get their own smartphones until they were in high school, and from the nonprofit Wait Until 8th.
The 2-year-old organization’s website offers the following list of reasons why parents should wait until eighth (grade, not birthday!) before getting a kid a smartphone. They are changing childhood, they are addictive, they are an academic distraction, they impair sleep, they interfere with relationships, they increase the risk for anxiety and depression, they put kids at risk for cyber bullying, they expose kids to sexual content, tech execs don’t let their kids use them and — most alarming to me — their use can alter children’s brains.
A National Institute of Health study revealed that MRIs found significant differences in the brains of children who use smartphones, tablets and video games more than seven hours a day. They have a premature thinning of the cortex, the outermost layer of the brain that processes information from the five senses.
Now, you can read that and immediately say, “My child would never spend more than seven hours a day on a screen!” But, as the Screen Time feature on your iPhone illustrates, those minutes spent on the phone accumulate quickly. Add in screen time devoted to watching shows on TV or You Tube videos on the laptop, and seven hours doesn’t seem so unreachable.
Even with all the evidence that smartphone use is detrimental, the site is pragmatic about how difficult it is when you feel like you’re the only mom or dad saying no.
“Parents feel powerless in this uphill battle and need community support to help delay the ever-evolving presence of the smartphone in the classroom, social arena and family dinner table,” it states. “Let’s band together to wait until at least eighth grade before children are allowed to have a smartphone.”
Parents who want to buy a basic phone that just calls and texts without a data plan can still sign the pledge. When at least 10 families from your children’s grade and school sign the pledge, you will be notified the pledge is in effect.
So, what do you say, parents? Will you join me?
— Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected]