Seattle's Child

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Middle-school survival strategies for kids with, or without, phones

How to help your preteen manage time spent on their electronic devices. And if you kid doesn't have a phone, you aren't alone — and neither are they.

Do you have a newly minted middle-schooler in the house? Despite middle school’s bad rap, it can be a time of exciting growth and change for families. I loved the 12 years I spent teaching seventh-graders. It made me realize that most things remain true about this age group: Kids want to fit in, appearance seems to matter, and hormonal changes complicate all of it.

But there is one big difference for today’s middle-schoolers: smartphones.

Thirty years ago, the fastest way to spread a rumor was to rush home after school and call one friend on the phone.  Today, photos are instantly (Insta)’grammed, embarrassing moments are posted in real time, and all social planning occurs via social media, group chat, or text. It can feel daunting as a parent (and as a middle-schooler).

However, there are a few things you can do to help your preteen prepare for middle school in screen-saturated 2019:

• If your child is not getting a phone for middle school, know that you are not alone, and the tide is turning. The front offices *still* have landlines for student use, and they don’t require a Wi-Fi connection. (Alternatively, a “dumb” phone serves a purpose with fewer distractions.)

​• Even if your child does not have a device, “secondhand distraction” is real. Even just a phone *near* them can detract from the learning experience. Talk as a family about how to handle this.

• Ask the school what their personal device policy is. Some schools have them; many do not. Request that they consider one. It is better for kids.

• Be aware of how much middle schools require kids to be online. This is a slippery slope: kids may need a screen to do homework, but they will be easily distracted by other apps and websites. Request paper versions of homework when you can: it is better for learning.

• Establish a quiet homework station in the house. Make it screen-free, if you can. If a computer is needed, keep personal devices away and turn off any notifications or alerts to minimize distractions.

• Prioritizing sleep is probably the No. 1 one thing you can do to positively impact your child’s overall well-being during middle school. Phones should charge in a common family charging area and be off and away for the night — for adults too!

Find more at Emily Cherkin's Screentime Consultant website.


More on 'tweens' and middle school:

Connect with your tween: Advice from a pediatrician/mom

Advice from a former middle-school misfit: Keep trying things