Your Kid & Smartphones – What’s the Big Deal?

So your child or teen wants a smartphone. Well that’s easy, you’ve probably got a spare one from your last plan or can get one from someone else secondhand. It will be great for them to learn how to manage their data spending, it will be great for them to be able to communicate with you whenever you need. And they’ve been begging you for Instagram for months now.

So why not, then? What’s the big deal, everyone’s got them, right? We are a technology-centric society so it’s only natural to want one, right? Hey, they even need them nowadays, don’t they?

And so begins the slippery slope.

As you know, parenting is not easy. This is one of those decisions that you could be easily swayed on. In fact, it’s going to be pretty bloody difficult to hold any kind of a stand against giving your teenager a phone, isn’t it?

So, why not give them one?!

Let me tell you why – because it’s as dangerous as giving them alcohol or letting them drive your car. You may as well order them mental health issues on a plate, with a side serving of sexual exploitation and irreversible privacy invasion for-afters.

Go back up and read those first couple of paragraphs. See how easy that was to agree with all of those statements? See how easy it is to follow the path of least resistance? Yes, that part is easy. But dealing with the multiple, daily fallouts that occur as a result of a child having a smart phone, now that is not easy at all. Not now, and not when they are still dealing with the social, emotional and mental consequences as an adult.

Now, I’m not stuck back in the 1990s (I wouldn’t mind it though, I loved the music). Teenagers now have mobile phones. Fact, accepted.

However, there are an increasing number of 10 and 11 year olds who are ‘getting phones’. Do they need them? I doubt it. As each child gets a phone because they ‘need one’, more children want one, and eventually it creates a tsunami of children who ‘need’ and have phones.

What’s most alarming about this, is that children this young are getting their own smartphones. This is largely where the problem largely lies.

Children under the age of 16-18 are not permitted by law to buy alcohol, drive a car or have a credit card. Such rules are in place because it’s recognised that children (yes, 15 year olds are still children) do not yet have parts of their brain developed that enable them to keep themselves safe and make adult decisions. They do not think ahead or think of the consequences, particularly in regard to complex issues, or where they have to think of others’ point of view, or into the future.

Using a smartphone requires many adult decisions on a daily basis. Think about how many times you want to type a comment or post something, but quickly think of the consequences and move your fingers away from the screen. Think about the number of times you almost share a link or photo, but then think twice about the implications for yourself and others. Think about the number of times you sign up or into something with your username and password, or agree for your information to be used, and you wonder ‘how is my information being used, is there a risk to my identity or privacy here?’  These are adult thought processes and actions and as a society we are increasingly burdening our children with these devices. When we think of it this way, it’s easier to realise that children under the age of 16 are not ready for smartphones, no matter how many of them already have them.

It’s easy to go on the path of least resistance, especially when our society is so technology-centric, and hey, they need tablets/iPads for school, so what’s the difference?

Let me tell you about how there’s a HUGE difference.

But before I go on to that, let me point out that the path of least resistance exists because we as parents let it. You know that village we wished existed to help raise our children? It does exist – if we band together as parents, schools and communities and did not bow to pressure to provide our children with smartphones, then it would be much less of an issue.  It’s as simple as saying:

“No. Smart Phones are for Grown-Ups”.

A child having a smartphone is a child protection issue. We need to protect our children from the potential dangers of smartphones. Let their brains develop into adult brains before we give them adult responsibilities and decisions. Let them PLAY. Children who have smartphones are looking at them, taking photos, posting to Instagram – these are not childhood activities! We are concerned about childhood obesity and mental health issues, yet they are being given a device which compound these very concerns!

Back to tablets versus mobile phones.

Students using iPads/tablets in schools are using them for educational purposes. A good school will not allow use of social networks on the devices or at the very least, during school hours. There are very strict policies around what photos can be taken, shared, used or manipulated, and even heavier consequence for misusing the device.  Even though it doesn’t prevent misuse of the devices, it heightens the students’ awareness around what they are doing. Therefore, there are layers of protection in place, in a safe environment where students learn to use technology responsibly. The schools most concerned about supporting students to use technology in a healthy, balanced and safe way will not allow tablets to be on desks or open when they are not required for use. They will not allow students to use mobile phones in class; some will not allow them to use their phones until the final school bell has rung. Those schools with more lax standards will find that technology related well being problems in their schools increase in parallel with this laxity.

Having a tablet for school use is a great way to learn about using technology responsibly. Until they get home. Once home, it seems all bets are off. Parents may not be home until the evening, parents may not be as savvy as schools and teachers at being aware of potential dangers and protecting young people from them. Parents are busy and don’t have the time to develop their awareness of technology issues in the same way that schools and teachers are now prioritising. Ensuring your child is using their tablets in a safe way is a big enough issue for parents. So why give them a smartphone and compound it?

Giving your child a smartphone opens up a whole new world, an adult world of adult images, pseudo-gambling, bullying, and early sexualisation. It affects their ability to live in the moment (that thing called mindfulness, which we all subscribe to, except when we are using our mobile phones), separate reality from virtual reality, it affects their self-image and self-worth, I could go on and on, but you are already looking to skip down to the ‘so what?’, so I’ll get there.

How do we deal with this tsunami of smartphone usage amongst under 16s when it seems like the wave has already washed over our teens and tweens, causing destruction without warning? (If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s coming).

We stop it. Stop it now. We say No. As the adult, the parent, the bank account and the wifi controller, we say No.

Wow, a book about Instagram for ages 10+, Insta must be good for 10-year olds then!        Um, NO.

Your Kids & Technology – a step-by-step guide

It’s difficult to suggest what to do for those parents who have already handed out the candy. But for those who are staring down the barrel, and are being bugged on a daily basis by your child to give them a smartphone, this is what needs to be done to protect your child from the adult parts of the Web 2.0 world:

  1. Ensure your school has a strict mobile phone policy. For high schools, this means that students aren’t permitted to have their phones on them during lesson. They need to be in lockers, in bags or confiscated. For primary schools, it’s a zero-tolerance approach. If in the rare occurrence of a child needing a phone, it should be kept at the front office for the day and collected after school. This is designed to protect all children, not just the child with the phone. If you have concerns about your school’s mobile phone standards, speak to the Principal. Use Parents & Friends power, if need be, to pressure the school, and get parents talking in the early primary years about the impending challenges and the solidarity of the village.
  2. Don’t give children under the age of 13 a phone. If you think your child of this age needs one, it’s time to review how independent you are making them be at this age. What do you have to change?
  3. As a gold standard, give your teen a ‘dumb phone’. One that doesn’t take high quality pictures. One that doesn’t have great internet. One that can simply make calls and send basic texts. When we pare it down to this, this is all a young teen needs.
  4. Allow teens onto social networks only after careful consideration. As the parent, you must always know their usernames and passwords, so that you always know where they are, virtually just as you would physically. Until they are adults, this is your prerogative. Stick with the age guidelines given by the social network. Don’t let them add anyone they have never met in real life and don’t know well (PS, she doesn’t know her cousin’s 19 year old netball coach even though she’s met her at the game a few times).
  5. Know how to use your teen’s phone and apps as well as they do. Keeping up with technology is a prerequisite of being a parent these days. Technology won’t go away, and a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude has you back in the dark quicker than Sally gets back on Home and Away. As technology gets more sophisticated, you need to get more savvy.
  6. Explain to your child that they must never, ever, give out their full name, address, phone number, birth date, banking details or school information electronically, without you being present. As an adult, it is easy to make this mistake and realise only later, that you’ve given information out that could lead to someone stealing your identity, or just your whole body. There are predators out there, and their work is much easier done virtually.
  7. Control the settings on your teenage child’s phone. Turn off geo-location in the phone and in the apps, to protect your child from predators. If you don’t know how to do this, Google it. Watch a video tutorial. Don’t give them the technology if you don’t know how to control it.
  8. Make sure your child knows, and reiterate regularly, that anything put on the Internet is there to stay. Mean words and embarrassing photos stick forever. They can and will be used against you. Save it for a verbal conversation. Better still, don’t say it at all.
  9. Be present when your child is using technology. You should always be able to see the screen, and if you don’t like what you see, shut it down immediately. You’re the boss, remember?
  10. No technology in the bedroom. Apart from it being bad for your health (it is a sleep stealer and sleep disruptor in itself, but is also very tempting to use in the middle of the night, because children don’t have fully developed impulse control mechanisms), if they are using in the bedroom, you can’t see what they are up to. This rule is also a great way of limiting ‘technology-time’ and achieving that elusive concept of mindfulness and play/relaxation ‘flow’ – AKA just ‘being’.
  11. Stay ahead of the game. The way in which children and teenagers use technology constantly changes. The potential dangers aren’t limited to mobile phones. Networked gaming devices, home computers, laptops and tablets also need to be monitored, as strictly as the liquor cabinet and the credit card details. Change the wifi password daily if you need to. Switch it off. Talk to your child, explain the ‘whys’ of why you are being strict about technology. Keep the dialogue open.

So who’s ready for their child to hate them at 15 and thank them when they’re 25? I’m a few years off yet, but I’m already starting my own little club over here. And you know what? It actually won’t be so bad if the whole village has the same standards of protecting their child against the potential dangers of smartphones. We might even grow some little people into well-adjusted adults.

Now go and lock the liquor cabinet!

Have I missed anything? Comment below if you’d like to see a number 12, 13 or 14!


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