My kids -- and many of my friends' kids -- are at that delicate age where they are asking for cell phones. Well, to be truthful, in most of our households the begging began a good three years ago but now that our kids have begun middle school (read: the time my mama friends and I have collectively been dreading since giving birth), the requests are pouring in from our tweens with renewed vigor and even some well-thought out rationales.
In the past two days alone, no less than six moms have shared with me a very similar version of the following:
"She's not ready for a phone yet, but I'm going to let her bring her iPod to school so that she can text and use apps."
Middle school is a time of enormous transition for tweens. When parents give their kids new freedoms and privileges in stages, they exercise sound judgment and avoid overwhelming their children with too much, too soon. But the flaw in the iPod-before-phone logic is this:
Telephones allow kids to engage in the good, old-fashioned activity of calling someone. Your child's soccer practice is over and he's ready to be picked up? He can use his phone to call you. Your daughter finds herself at a party where her friends are drinking? What a show of good judgment for her to call you for a safe ride home. Your kids want to call their friends to make plans, do homework, or just chit chat? That's what phones are for.
iPods, iPads, Kindles, Nooks, and other such devices, on the other hand, offer so many more possibilities. Over 100,000 possibilities! At least that's the number of free apps that gadgets such as the Kindle (hey, isn't that supposed to be a reading device?) proudly boast as having available for users. Point of fact: top tween downloads are not books or educational games, but rather social media apps such as Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat which, as Aimee Ogden points out in her recent post, "Your 11-Year Old Should Not be on Instagram," are anything but appropriate for young kids. Along the same lines, while many parents believe that their kids can only text via a phone connection, it's important to know that popular apps like Kik Messenger allow kids unlimited freedom to text.
To be clear, the purpose of this brief post is not to admonish parents against letting young kids use technology. Devices and gadgets are as much a part of many kids' worlds as oxygen and thus learning how to use technology in responsible, respectful ways is the key to young people's breathing well. What I do want parents to have, however, is a realistic, informed knowledge of the hierarchy of risks when it comes kids and technology. A cell phone that allows kids to call each other and call their adult caretakers is far safer than a smartphone or other WiFi-enabled device that gives kids unfettered access to texting and apps.
For insights on determining the "right" age for youngsters to begin texting and using social media, please click here to read my article "Is Your Child Old Enough to Text and Post Online?"
Signe Whitson, LSW is a school counselor, national educator on Bullying Prevention, and author of 8 Keys to End Bullying: Strategies for Parents and Schools. For workshop inquiries, please visit www.signewhitson.com