Is my child ready for a smartphone?
Should I get my kid a smartphone? What you are really asking is: Does your child possess the self restraint, impulse control and willpower to turn it off? Can they ignore the noise and let it wait till the appropriate time or otherwise resist responding to the constant stimulus from it? Or will they be like Pavlov’s dog, subconsciously responding to the phone every time it dings. There are dozens of articles, many of them good, but few address the question at its core. Is my kid mature enough to process that level of stimuli without becoming debilitated by it? Is my child ready to have a device in their pocket 24-7 that has access to every part of the internet, social media, files, interactions, apps and whatnot?
The short answer is NO, most people under the age of 23 don’t possess the impulse control or self restraint to not jump to the phones every time it makes a noise. There are many studies that point to the fact that the fast moving pixels, the instant response from the friends, the likes on that Instagram photo or what ever, all provide an instant shot of gratification, a dopamine burst that provides a neural response similar to a small hit of an opium or a kiss or driving to fast. This little rush reinforces their need to respond to the device. It rewards them for jumping to its whim and makes them feel bad when they don’t. Many experts have deemed this negative input, this bad feeling when you don’t immediately respond to the ding as FOMO or Fear of Missing Out. In short, someone somewhere said something and if I don’t look at it right now I will have less information than everyone else I know. I will be the one left out. This is one reason that according to experts, kids especially young girls, would rather allow cyber bullying to happen than tell to an adult and chance losing their smartphone.
As a parent, while your tween or teen having a smartphone can be very convenient for you, it can also be very dangerous. If your child isn’t very careful, well educated and trained to its proper use, a smartphone can be a direct conduit to your child for any stalker or online predator.
Most kids have three very dangerous misconceptions. First, especially starting around the age of 13, they think that their parents are stupid, that they are out of touch, and that parents couldn’t possibly understand what is going on in the real world and therefore parents are just making rules and observations based on the parents need to make the kids life miserable. Second, they think they themselves are smarter, wiser or more street smart than they really are, and probably more than all the people around them who are having issues in this area. They don’t think “Hey, my friend just had an issue online with this site, so it may be dangerous” but instead they think “Wow, that friend just messed up. How silly of them. I will be way smarter and therefore much safer when I do that very same thing…”. Third, they think that everyone on the internet is exactly who they say they are. You see, only time and experience builds the kind of cynicism needed to survive the internet today. We can tell them to doubt everything, to question everything, but they don’t listen to that. They “know that we say to not trust anyone online, but that means just weird people the perverts and the creeps, not my new friend Jimmy that lives in another state who I just met on Instagram and who is really cool and understands me better than any adult could…” Even though Jimmy is probably a 48 year old bald guy living in his parents basement four blocks away who has already been on the sex offenders list for several years… Kids are trusting of everyone except authority. Also, taking chances and living dangerously online is a thrill. It seems very safe because it is apparently disconnected from the danger, however, most kids are not experienced or savvy enough to truly keep themselves safe. Like an adult driving an SUV, the physical platform provides the illusion of safety by separating and elevating the user and surrounding them with an apparent buffer, when in actuality, it is much less safe because they are lulled into taking more chances, being more lax, posting things they would “never say in person”and therefore opening the door for anyone who actually is malicious to step in and slowly gather information regarding them without their realizing it. This is also why they are so surprised and don’t know how to respond when there is a problem. This level of separation that seemingly protects them from the people on the internet, this virtual hedge they are hiding behind to say and do things they normally wouldn’t, also shields the threat from their view too. Stalkers and Trolls prefer to exist online because of the same anonymity that your children are trying to hide behind. Because of this, your kids seem perfectly safe right up to the point were the predator shows up at their door.
So what can we do about it? Well, the easy answer is don’t give your child a smartphone. In almost every case, your child is safer without one. If they don’t have one, they can’t text and drive, they can’t walk out into the street while looking at the screen instead of checking traffic, they can’t sext other kids, or worse. They won’t be up all night instagraming or snapchatting with god-knows-who. They won’t be posting photos with GPS coordinates attached to show the stalker how to get to them. There are probably a hundred or more things which they can do more safely WITHOUT a smartphone. I know there is also an argument for their ability to call for help, or for a ride and that is valid, but when you choose to fix that by providing a smartphone, you are introducing many new dangers and only you can weigh that benefit against the cost. One other thing I have found regarding online safety and our kids, is this. Most of the dangers of a smartphone, except maybe the instant gratification that comes with one, will be found on any web enabled device and if you kids are looking for trouble, they are going to find it no matter what you do, they just have to be more creative and therefore often more dangerous.
But what if you really feel that you want them to have one? Maybe because all their friends do, maybe because you want the ability to keep in touch with them, what ever your reason, you decide to get one, but what else can you do to protect them? Well, I have gone over many steps so far on this site, and we will look at many more in the future, remember my 8 tips and then with that in mind, actively parent. Do what ever you do intentionally. Make a plan and try to follow it. Be in the situation with them, be present and active in their life. Don’t just give in and hand out devices to shut them up or to stop bad behavior. Parent YOUR way, not your schools way, not your moms way, not your friends or the Internets way. Do your parenting thoughtfully and on purpose. You will not be perfect. Your kids will not be perfect, but they will reflect whatever you show them. If you show them distrust, or if you misuse your devices in front of them, they will repeat that. If you show them love, kindness and compassion, they will reflect that too.