Parenting Debate: Should You Wait Until 8th?
If you're the parent of a child over the age of, oh, two, chances are you’ve been begged for a smartphone. And with apps targeting babies and the average age of phone-rship hovering around ten, it may feel like all of society is pressuring you to give them one. But there is a growing movement (yep, online—the irony is not lost on us) imploring parents to #waituntil8th. That is, eighth grade, or around age 13, when kids theoretically have enough emotional maturity to resist some of social media’s darker trends. Here, experts make the case for buying in early—or opting out.
Wait Until 8th
When even tech titans are insisting on digital-free childhoods for their kids, you’ve got to wonder. Wait Until 8th references evidence that smartphones are addictive, academically distracting, cut down on essential outdoor playtime, erode IRL relationships (including familial ones), impede sleep and pose a serious danger to mental health. Not freaked out enough yet? Writes psychologist and researcher Jean Twenge in The Atlantic: “The twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.”
Phones aren’t the problem; parenting is
With the explosion of smartphones and social media, kids aren’t the only ones distracted to the point of dysfunction. In what amounts to both a rallying cry and a wakeup call, tech researcher Alexandra Samuel writes: “Fellow parents, it’s time for us to consider another possible explanation for why our kids are increasingly disengaged. It’s because we’ve disengaged ourselves; we’re too busy looking down at our screens to look up at our kids…My entire experience of parenthood has been lived in the tug-of-war between child and screen; my kids can’t remember a time when they didn’t have to compete with my iPhone in order to get my attention. Like many people, my constant screen interactions are a matter of professional obligation as well as personal taste, so I live life as a constant juggling act between the needs of my children and the distractions of social media.” Sound familiar? Samuel continues: “My own research suggests that the best way we can [teach kids healthy online behavior] is by embracing our role as digital mentors: actively encouraging our kids to use technology, but offering ongoing support and guidance in how to use it appropriately…Kids who’ve been actively mentored by their parents actually have healthier relationships to technology than kids who’ve been set free in the wilds of the Internet, or conversely, had their online access tightly limited.” The upshot? It’s not when you get your kids a phone; it’s how you teach them to use it that counts.