If your friends jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you? It’s one of the phrases my parents used on me that I now like to use on my kids—albeit jokingly. But the tried and true advice to kids about the dangers of peer pressure only gets you so far. Because as much as we want our kids to forge their own path and think independently, we also want them to get along with others and ideally be part of a community. If that’s the case, then it is part of our job as parents to ensure that they grow up among at least some people whose choices we think are appropriate.
All of which is a prelude to say I was deeply heartened when an acquaintance posted an article on Facebook called “The ‘Wait Until 8th’ Pledge – Let Kids be Kids a little longer…” In it, the organizers say they want to empower “parents to rally together to delay giving children a smartphone until at least 8th grade. By banding together, this will decrease the pressure felt by kids and parents alike over the kids having a smartphone.”
The organizers, based mostly in Texas, appear to be a highly educated group of mothers and fathers—some professionals, others stay-at-home mothers—and to have completely reasonable expectations. They don’t shun technology—the founder has BA in Communications from Northwestern—and they don’t expect their children to live without it forever. They simply want to give them a few more years without the pressures that come with social media and online communication.
Smartphones, as the pledge notes, are “addictive.” They are “an academic distraction,” “impair sleep,” “interfere with relationships,” “increase the risk for anxiety and depression,” “put your child at risk for cyberbullying,” “expose children to sexual content.” Oh, and by the way, “technology executives ban smartphones for their children.”
Perhaps this new effort will receive a boost from Jean Twenge’s popular article in the September issue of The Atlantic, which provides research to back up almost all of these findings. It’s true: The changes in children and adolescents since the advent of smartphones have been dramatic. After studying teen behavior for a number of decades, Twenge writes, “Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.”
Many parents have long sensed that there is a problem. But unless they are willing to be complete outcasts in their communities, they have been unsure what to do about it. On his blog at the American Conservative, Rod Dreher posted a letter from a reader in the spring of 2016. “I am 100 percent on board with your indictment of technology for kids,” a mother writes. “How does a family, however, handle the isolation and loneliness that comes with being ‘disconnected’ from others?” The writer explains that though she and her husband have flip phones, their four teenagers do not. They have computers in the family room but the websites they can access are limited.
She confesses: “The few people who still bother with us think we are nuts. We are social outcasts, and I really think it has to do with the technology thing. One by one, we have seen good families cave in and get iPads and smart phones for their kids. When we mention the serious problems with this, we get blank stares or they politely change the subject and soon distance themselves from us.”
Now, thanks to “Wait Until 8th,” maybe the tide is starting to change.