By Kate Ashford
Smartphone use is now a fact of life for kids. Ninety-five percent of teens ages 13 to 17 say they have a smartphone or access to one, according to the latest data from the Pew Research Center, and 45% report being online “almost constantly.” The most popular online platforms: YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat.
In a 2017 Nielsen report, 45% of kids got a smartphone with a service plan at 10 to 12 years old. If you’re trying to moderate your child’s smartphone use or keep them from having a smartphone altogether, it can feel like you’re swimming against the tide. But there are a number of initiatives that have popped up to help you try.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s out there:
WAIT UNTIL 8TH
What is it? It’s a pledge encouraging parents to band together in a promise not to give their children smartphones until at least 8th grade.
Background: One day Brooke Shannon, the founder of Wait Until 8th, was driving past her local middle school and noticed something. “All the kids were getting out of school, and instead of interacting with each other, they were walking and looking at their smartphones,” she says. “My oldest was in third grade, and as a mom, I was discouraged that this was the road ahead.” She emailed a group of parents from her daughter’s third grade class and started a dialog. As it turns out, everyone wanted to wait as long as possible to give their kids smartphones.
“It just takes two or three kids in your kid’s class who come in with a phone,” Shannon says. “And then other kids start getting them. You don’t want your child to be the one left out of social situations. As a group of parents, we just decided, let’s not do it until a certain point.” Shannon does recognize that there are some situations that require being able to get in touch, and her group recommends a basic flip phone if parents must buy something.
It was intended to be a local initiative, but Shannon built a quick website and word started to spread. Now the initiative can be found in communities in every state. “I think it resonates with parents because there wasn’t a tangible tool out there to help you navigate this issue,” Shannon says.
What can you do? You can take the pledge yourself on WaitUntil8th.org and use the site’s resources to spread the word in your own community.
What is it? This is also an initiative to encourage parents to wait until at least 8th grade to purchase a smartphone for their kids.
Background: Adrienne Principe, the co-founder of Concord Promise, spent some time as the co-chair of the wellness committee at her children’s elementary school, and there was much discussion about all the anxiety they were seeing in kids there. “We had seen Screenagers, and there were a lot of articles being published,” Principe says. “I looked at all the information and spoke to the two moms I cofounded the organization with, and nobody seemed to be doing anything about it. We thought, ‘What can we do to really have an impact?’”
Talking with other parents, they realized that delaying smartphone ownership wasn’t enough. “Parents are really looking for community support,” Principe says. “They want to be able to talk to each other about the challenges they’re facing. They want access to resources and events and this idea of partnership became very important.”
The site has partnered with psychologists and researchers who are studying technology to provide resources for parents who want to know more about it. Slowly, other towns have launched their own Promises using the resources available on Concord Promise’s site.
What can you do? You can make your own promise at Concord Promise and start a group for your community using the site’s suggestions and resources.
AWAY FOR THE DAY
What is it? This is an initiative focusing on encouraging middle schools to change their policies to require phones to be off and away during the school day. The website offers educational resources, testimonials from people who’ve done it, and advice on advocating for policy change in your own community. The information can also be used to encourage high schools to do the same thing.
Background: Lisa Tabb, the co-founder of the Away for the Day movement, is also the co-producer of the film Screenagers. Her team did a national survey of parental preferences and found that 82% of parents of middle school students don’t want their kids to have access to cell phones at school, while 56% of middle schools allow students to carry their phones all day. “We saw that there was this moment to push back,” she says.
Everything on the website is useful for all grades and all schools, Tabb says. And when the team put out a query in a recent Tech Talk for schools that had recently changed their policies, they got 45 responses—almost half of which were high schools. Tabb herself was involved in implementing changes to the smartphone policy in her daughter’s high school. “That took a year,” she says. “It needs to be a unified force for kids to get it and for teachers to feel supported.”
What can you do? Visit AwayfortheDay.org to read more about the initiative and what you can do to help push smartphone changes in your own schools.
HOLD THAT TEXT
What is it? It’s an idea: Parents should hold texts for their kids until after school hours, rather than texting them throughout the day as things occur to them.
Background: This is not so much a movement as a suggestion during a Screenagers Tech Talk Tuesday that’s gained some traction. “We feel like it’s an important part of all this, as parents, to be thinking about when we’re texting our kids during the day,” Tabb says. “Do we really need to? And we’re creating a reason for them to have to respond or check.”
What can you do? Consider whether that text you’re sending at 11 a.m. is urgent or whether you can send it at 3 p.m. instead—or whenever your student is out of school. If you’re worried you’ll forget, make a note in your phone and set an alarm for yourself. Need motivation? Note that test scores are 10.6% lower among students regularly interrupted by texts. Talk to other parents in your community to spread the word.