Seattle's Child

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Screen Smarts: The Kid’s Smartphone Dilemma

What every Seattle parent needs to know

In our digital age, a familiar conversation for Seattle parents is when is the appropriate age for their child to have a smartphone. According to Common Sense Media, the current average age of first phone ownership in the United States is ten years old. If you are a parent with an elementary school-aged child, you have no doubt considered the convenience and comfort of being able to contact your child easily by phone. However, there is increasing evidence that excessive phone use at an early age correlates to significant negative consequences for children.

So, what are parents’ options to address these concerns? In this article, we look at community movements and share practical advice from conversations with local experts and educators for parents navigating this situation. Find out what you can do to help curb the usage of smartphones in schools, one of the last places kids can fully engage.

Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH

Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH

Elementary School is Too Early for Phones

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, the director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior, and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, talked with us about some of the challenges parents face with elementary school-aged children and smartphones. “There isn’t alignment of intention. We call it a phone, but that’s not what any kids use it for. It’s a small computer with unlimited access.” Parents want to be able to reach their children, but that’s not what kids are wanting it for.

Social media and apps are designed to keep users engaged with every notification and buzz. Instead of working with pediatricians and educators, we’ve allowed the industry to set the age limits and guidelines. Most apps require users to be a certain age, but many lawsuits, like the one from Seattle Public Schools in 2023, accuse the companies operating TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube of faulty age-gating processes and marketing to younger children. It’s so easy for kids to get distracted by a device, and they do not have the tools to self-regulate.

Dr. Christakis points out that “School is an important place to start addressing this problem because it’s the last real place that kids have face-to-face interactions with others.” Common Sense Media studied phone use in schools using a sample of 203 students ages 11-17 using a tracking app on their phones and found these kids averaged 43 minutes on their phones during each school day. Conversations are happening in every school district and community about reducing distractions and screen time with young children so they can focus on learning and building relationships. So, what are parents able to do? They need to work together.

Phone-Free Schools and the Wait Until 8th Pledge

Brooke Shannon, a mom of three, started a movement to connect parents struggling with this exact issue. The Wait Until 8th Pledge is gaining traction throughout the US with its mission to empower parents to rally together and reduce peer pressure. When signing, you agree that you will not give your child a smartphone until after 8th grade. Once ten families have pledged from your child’s grade and school, you’ll be notified that your pledge is active. You will learn who else is in the same camp and join forces to help spread the word. This option might only be suitable for some families, but more support means less pressure from other kids and feeling left out. The focus is on smartphones, so other phones for calling and texting are acceptable.

Talk to your school and understand their policies regarding cell phone usage on campus. The recent Seattle Times survey showed that most readers think cell phones have no place in the classroom. Denise Ozeri, a local middle school counselor, is a huge advocate for phone-free schools. “Phones are a distraction and are unnecessary at school. They create an equity issue, so the fewer phones in schools, the better.”

There are resources, like Away for the Day, where you can view the policy language from phone-free schools and help your school administration move towards a phone-free environment. Seattle’s Roosevelt High School is one of the schools featured on Away for the Day for their excellent phone-free policy, but the Seattle Public Schools district as a whole does not have a phone-use policy for the district. It’s up to individual schools and classrooms to enforce.

Child clipping BoT Talk device to her backpack

‘BoT Talk” product image courtesy of BoT US Inc

What is the Best Advice for Parents?

When we asked Dr. Christakis what advice he would give parents with young children who might start asking for a smartphone, he said, “set expectations early with your children. They wouldn’t expect to drive before they turn 16, so explain it to them and set expectations. Also, talk to your kid’s friends’ parents and build a community. They are facing the same dilemma, and it’s easier with other support.”

Talk to your children, work with your school administrators, pledge your support for Wait Until 8th, connect with other parents, and be a good role model for your children when it comes to technology. Take advantage of alternatives, like GPS trackers, and avoid smartphones.

This article is sponsored by BoT US. BoT Talk is a screen-free GPS tracker for kids with 2-way voice messaging releasing this summer and now taking pre-orders. Learn more by checking out their Kickstarter campaign.

 

Sources: 

Common Sense Media: A Week in the Life of a Young Person’s Smartphone Use https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/research/report/2023-cs-smartphone-research-report_final-for-web.pdf

Dr. Dimitri A Christakis, MD, MPH – https://www.seattlechildrens.org/directory/dimitri-a-christakis/

About the Author

BoT US

The US subsidiary of Bsize, a Japan-based manufacturer and home of BoT Talk, a screen-free GPS tracker for kids with 2-way voice messaging. Learn more about BoT Talk at https://rebrand.ly/bot_scfg