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.
By Carolyn Cullen
Last spring I taught mental health awareness to groups of Pelham children. I began by asking the children to tell me what they know about mental illness. One girl chimed in that mental illness was something that only happens in New York City. This innocent belief captures the idea that many of us as adults have about unknown or scary topics – that is something that happens to others who are far way, not me and mine. Pelham Together is built on the premise that connections count, and together we can make a difference in seeing that young people do not suffer needlessly from depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. Talking to a trusted other makes a difference, and mental health treatment can be life changing.
As a psychotherapist and mental health educator who has been working in the field for 25 years, I have heard many stories of people who wanted to get help sooner for mental health issues but hid their problems. In fact, some talk about how family members, friends, school personnel, or other key individuals silenced them when they tried to get help. One such example of this was a bright young man named Michael* who dropped out of college after isolating himself in his dorm room for months. He first felt depressed in high school and thought about talking to someone as a teenager. Then, a student in his high school committed suicide. He remembers a teacher told his class that no other student would ever get to such a point. This blocked Michael from feeling ok about talking about his own depressed feelings, some of which included thoughts of suicide. He was able to keep his depression hidden until he could no longer bear it and had a breakdown in college. Through psychotherapy and medication, Michael was able to get back on track and make a return to his undergraduate studies and finish his degree. More importantly, he learned to develop coping skills, one of which involved building meaningful friendships with other people who could act as a support system. Pelham Together is working on building opportunities for young people like Michael to come forward easily and let others know when they are feeling mental pain in the same way they can when they have physical illness.
Unfortunately, many adults are still misinformed about mental illness and may see it as moral failure. This misunderstanding was seen in reactions to the recent suicides of two wealthy successful, middle-aged icons Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. It seems shocking, and left many adults wondering, “Why?”. The answer is most likely depression or mental disorder in a world that sometimes values individualism and material wealth over connection and belonging. This can make people not want to reach out and talk about personal difficulties or ever share that they have or have had mental health issues. Too often over the years, I have heard clients talk about how external trappings of success did not provide them with the happiness for which they longed. In fact, for many of the people I have worked with, the attainment of success left them feeling empty and hollow. This can be especially hard when people grow up in families where their parents did not give love and attention freely but instead based it on external accomplishments.
A person suffering from depression may look like they’ve got it made on the outside, but on the inside, life is excruciatingly hard. As the writer Andrew Solomon describes, a person who is depressed may have a lot of voicemails from friends, but instead of thinking something like “wow, it’s wonderful to hear from my many friends!” will instead think something gloomy like, “that’s a lot of people to have to call back.” Changing these thought patterns is not easy and requires work, which usually involves psychotherapy sometimes combined with medication. Depression shows itself in many ways and is something that even the most successful among us can experience. According to a leading advocacy and support organization, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, depression is the number one cause of disability worldwide, and suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
Depression is a medical illness with many symptoms including physical ones. The most common symptom associated with depression is the feeling of sadness, yet some depressed people totally deny feeling sad. Instead they might report other common signs of depression including: anxiety, feelings of pessimism, loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies, decreased energy and fatigue, difficulty sleeping or over sleeping, appetite or weight changes, muscle pain or headaches, or even thoughts of death/suicide. While depression is more common in adults, children can experience depression and show irritability and anxiety as their main symptoms. Not everyone who is depressed experiences every symptom.
Major life changes, trauma and stress can put one at risk for developing depression. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of stigma that prevents many from getting help as soon as possible. If someone has been feeling sad, hopeless or irritable for at least two weeks, it is critical to get help right away. Earlier intervention can lead to a quicker and easier recovery in the long run. Recovery is possible; we all can play a role in breaking down the stigma so more people get the help they need when they need it.
The most common treatment for depression is psychotherapy and in some cases in combination with medication.
- To get help, individuals and families can find therapists on the Pelham Together website and Psychology Today website where local therapists are listed. You can find insurance plans accepted on the bottom left hand side of the therapist’s Psychology Today page.
- A 24/7 nationalCrisis Text Line is offered by texting START to 741-741 and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available free of charge 24/7 at (800) 273-TALK (8255).
* All personal information has been altered to protect the identity of any individual.
After her 7th grade final yesterday, my daughter picked up an empty box of mango-flavored Juul pods that had been tossed on the ground outside Pelham Middle School; got me thinking about what else kids can smoke via these devices. This article is a good resource for staying informed. Partnership for Drug Free Kids Article
Aims to provide families with the best resources to prevent and overcome drug and alcohol addiction. Resources include information about commonly abused drugs, co-occurring disorders, support for parents and the different kinds of treatment available.
-An overview of the transition into college
-A guide to college accommodations & assistive learning technology
-Key strategies, resources, scholarships & more for students with learning disabilities
College Guide for Students With Learning Disabilities