Kids on phones.
In 2007, the iPhone was announced for the first time. Life has not been the same for us modern humans since, and life has never been more difficult for parents of children who get to the age where they want one.
I have yet to meet a parent who has had zero bumps in the road to technological independence for their child. Once a preteen gets a whiff that their friends have smartphones, the begging starts and does not end until the parents begrudgingly comply. Usually with many requirements that even the most well-behaved child will skirt, push, and manipulate. Then come the fights and the parental lament of “I should never have given them one in the first place.”
Every parent I know with a teen with a phone has uttered this sentence at least once. If this is you—you are not alone!
Kids and phones
I’m tempted to use smartphones and the internet interchangeably because, truly, at this point in our technological revolution, they are pretty much one and the same. A child does not use their phone to make calls. They use it to interact in myriad ways online. Whether that’s through video chat rooms (yes, they still exist), social media, various video sites, and the list goes on.
The parenting struggle begins when you have to consider how on Earth you will put limits on a child when they have, quite literally, the world in their pockets. Below are some factors to consider when you have a child with access to technology and how it may affect them. This isn’t to say that you should cart your kid off to a wilderness camp and keep them disconnected from the world.
This is just to keep you informed as a parent, to keep a watchful eye over your child’s habits and moods as they walk in the world we all live in today.
Effect on mood
At the risk of sounding like an after-school special, it is important to discuss why monitoring kids and technology is important in the first place.
There are the usual dangers of personal safety, but there are other more accessible and slippery slope dangers that children are just not ready for. For one, children are incredibly susceptible to what they see and hear, and there is no end to the kind of content online that promotes dangerous, risky, or triggering ideas in a young child’s mind.
If you have a child who is prone to episodes of depression or anxiety, there is a high likelihood that they are going to seek out content online that corresponds with these moods. This isn’t because they are seeking to make things worse for themselves. In fact, they are trying not to feel so alone. The danger is that they are not developmentally capable at this young age of filtering what is true and what is dangerous. A video that they may feel “gets them” may, in fact, create new and more intense feelings of depression that would not have developed in isolation.
This one is talked about often but is still worth being mentioned. Girls, especially in their teen years, are going to be self-critical of their bodies and their social standing. When given a constant stream of highly filtered celebrities and what they think may be peers in their pocket, they will further conclude that they are lacking where others are succeeding, and a child’s already fragile sense of self-esteem may crack.
This is one that is not specific to children but to all of us. The internet, social media, and smartphones provide us with the highly addictive substance called instant gratification. We can literally know anything we want at any given point in time, and we need not wait. We can order, buy, or sell anything we want nearly as easily.
I can, in the same five-minute span, book a hotel in Bali, buy my groceries (to be delivered to my house), discuss a friend’s recent breakup, and look up a medical website to see what this new strange freckle might be . Do I need to do this many things at once? No! Is it helpful? No! Are we training ourselves to be constantly productive and aversive to waiting for anything—yes!
For adults, this is a bad habit to break. For kids, this is a path that can drastically hinder their success in many areas of life that they have not yet mastered and will need to master before they get to the independence of adulthood.
What to do
So, what do you do as a parent who has already given your child free reign of their device? Again, you don’t need to totally disconnect your child. Just start to ask yourself how well you’re paying attention to what they are doing. If needed, start making small changes, but most importantly, make sure you are monitoring what they are doing.
Children will hate it, but you need to know. At the end of the day, if they are a minor, they are under your care, and that means under your supervision—even online.
Start setting limits. Maybe it’s no phone at the table. Maybe no phone in the car. Maybe it’s certain apps that are not permitted. You make the choice for your family and your child depending on their responsibility level and age—but this is something you should consider and instill.
Kids need limits to grow into healthy adults. Technology is a major part of our world, so teaching good and safe habits with technology is a major parenting area that deserves attention.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try and lead by example by monitoring your own habits, but as in everything—have grace for yourself and your family as you try to architect better days and better ways.