And the Smartphone Argument Begins
A couple of years ago, there was a phone contract that went around our school system asking parents to not give their children smartphones until 8th grade. I never signed it. I felt like a contract among parents seemed a little extreme but now I get it. Not one person I know has stuck to this contract and the pressure to get your child a smartphone is intense. Today, I was told that I ruined my daughter’s birthday, it’s not until Sunday, because I said “I don’t know” if she can get one when she goes into 6th grade. She isn’t even in 6th grade and the psychological warfare has begun. If I ever judged, those poor parents who succumbed to their whining children complaining about how unjust their lives are because they can’t have a smartphone, I apologize. The tears, slamming of doors and absurdity of the phone debate has my mamma hackles raised to the umpteenth degree. On one hand, yes, getting my girls phones would clearly make picking them up from activities much easier but on the other hand, a smartphone is a gateway to a lot of negative content. So aside from the barrage of hateful, irrational arguments my daughter is wielding at me, is it worth holding out just a little longer? Would a year or two really make a huge difference?
What has held us back till this point is how very irresponsible my oldest daughter is. She loses everything and there is very little doubt that she would lose or break her phone shortly after getting one. My husband and I decided a while ago, as we knew it would be a very difficult hurdle for her to get over, that she could not have a phone unless she bought it. We felt that if she was paying for it herself, then this would help her be a little more responsible. In addition, she is terrible at saving money so we could push it off until she could actually afford it. However, the debate continues. She first started with the whining “I am in 6th grade, all my friends have one and no one had to buy one themselves”. Next, it was manipulation “I made honor roll, can I have phone?” Then finally she tried bartering, “my friends stay up till 11pm on their phones but I would go to bed early”. I appreciate her attempts, in fact, I am proud of her stick-to-it, relentless, pursuit for a phone. However, I wish she had this same tireless passion for swimming or piano.
Let’s move on to my birthday-ruined child. She is very different than her older sister. She has been saving up for a phone for the last two years. Whenever I have to go into the Verizon store, she asks to come in with me and then proceeds to monopolize the sales person’s time about what older phones are currently available for resale and what the prices are. Then she goes home and counts her money. In addition, she is very responsible and keeps her treasured items for a very long time. So, it is not surprising that the phone debate is coming up with her as well.
One of my arguments against allowing them to have phones is the negative content or my inability to filter what it is they are hearing or watching. I am petrified of social media and its effects on children. Through the pandemic, our restrictions on TV and YouTube have been grossly reduced but they always have each other to keep themselves in check with what they are watching. They also share an iPad and do not have access to social media. It has felt pretty contained until this point but adding a personal device with fewer restrictions seems terrifying. And I hear from both my 6th and 5th grader that during their bus rides to and from school everyone has their phones out and are playing and sharing them. I realize the flood gates are open and now it is time to just get our heads around what we think is right for our family.
Since I am now a judgement-free-zone regarding parents who gave in and got their children phones, I am learning as much as I possibly can about what I can do to make having smartphones a working option in our home. I have sent out group texts to a dozen friends asking them about what they do, if they allow social media and how do they work around “very important” text chains. Everyone has different ways of dealing with all of these issues. Some of my girlfriends, lock the phones away the minute their kids get into the house. Others, only allow one or two social media apps but make sure they have access to their children’s accounts. I am trying to take the best from all my friends and learn from them. As I always say with big moves in our house, the rules are constantly changing and what is right for right now maybe different in a couple of months.
Knowing that everything is fluid, my husband and I have decided on a family phone contract. Our daughters will have a family contract that they will need to sign to take possession of their phones. As of right now, they will not be able to download social media on their phone until it is decided upon by my husband and I. They will have designated shut off times on weekends and school nights. They will not be able to text during family meals and we will have full access to checking their phones whenever we deem necessary without any advance notice. In addition, they will have to watch a couple of documentaries on the effects of social media.
Does this seem harsh, considering my daughters are “paying” for their own phones? My answer is no! This seems like the most reasonable control to opening Pandora’s Box in the hands of a child. There needs to be controls, in our case, it comes in the form of lack of privacy. As parents, we are most likely buying the phones and paying the monthly bills. This does not come with the assumption of privacy for them. In our house, trust is earned and in the case of smartphones, trust and privacy go hand-in-hand. Only time will tell how this will turn out and I am sure I will have a lot more to say on the issue.