When it comes to raising a digital kid — without ever having been one! — you’ll hear all sorts of different advice about what works best. And it’s true — there isn’t just one way to create a digital tattoo. There are many ways to do it well!
I have to confess, though, I get a little riled up when I see Facebook commenters completely dismissing teaching younger kids — tweens — safe and smart digital skills as a strategy to raising older kids — teens — who already have these skills in place.
You see, there are a LOT of myths circulating online about kids and phones in particular. Many of these myths are being spread by parents who have never even tried the strategy they’re so quick to judge.
So frustrating, my friend, and here’s a little hint: Never take advice from someone who hasn’t done the “thing” they’re talking about themselves.
Teaching my own tweens the cell phone skills they need well before they became oh-so-very-independently thinking teenagers has been an absolute game-changer for me these last four years — playing a crucial role in taking my kids from struggling to knowing exactly what to click/download/enter/type and NOT click/download/enter/type while using cell phones or even just being on the Internet at home or using their school-given iPads to making safe, smart, and kind choices on every device they're on.
No matter the app.
Or whether or not I'm watching over their shoulders.
Yes, that scenario sounds insane to me, too — especially considering how little I actually know about working X-Boxes, playing online games, and even updating my phone! If you told me I’d be that confident in my own children's independent phone use even five years ago, I would’ve laughed and assumed you were just being silly.
This insanely fast growth in the confidence and peace of mind that I have about my tweens' cell phone use wouldn’t have happened without giving them access to a phone or texting or apps or even social media at a slightly younger age, so you can see why I’m so passionate about this decision!
Before you dismiss your child getting a phone as being, “Good for her, not for me,” I want to debunk a few myths that are circulating online about this so that you can make an informed decision about whether this strategy might be right for you.
We'll dig in right below this lovely pin. :)
Psst! PIN THIS!
4 Reasons Why A Phone Is Not Bad For Your Child
Myth #1: "Giving them a phone = Ruining their childhood."
If this were true, then my children would not be involved and successful in the amazing activities that they are.
See, when I started teaching my kids how to make technology use a part of their lives — rather than a replacement for it — my theory was that if I jumped ahead of the curve and taught them what they needed to know about this skill well before they had formed their own assumptions and bad habits (that needed to be untaught) that it would be easier to make what I wanted them to know "stick" AND to infuse their habits with our family's values and ideals.
What I was really doing, though, was taking a risk.
Because we're the first generation of parents raising digital kids without having been them, none of us really know how this all turns out, do we?
So I placed my "money" — not really, my actions, my parenting, my heart — on what I know to be true:
Human Development theory on when to teach what (detailed below) + Educational theory on how to best teach children new things.
The payoff of my big risk?
Because I don't fight my children's interest in technology, I get to be the one to teach them how to have a healthy relationship with it, enjoy and stay connected to my modern kids, and I get to fit technology neatly into this beautiful life, not replace it, not ever — all on my terms.
I started this 'lil experiment four years ago and now I have kids:
- Who know when to put their phones down.
- And do so happily + argument-free.
- Are involved in beautiful activities.
- Engage with each other and us (their parents).
- And have phone etiquette that's to die for.
But who — besides me! — cares what my kids are doing, right? :)
My students report that their children:
- Can easily weave between online and off-line activities.
- Are better engaged with family activities than before.
- And not only that, but they can discern which online activities are worthy of their time and which ones definitely aren't.
Here's what I love about about embracing where my children are at with technology, meeting them there with what's developmentally appropriate, and parenting to THAT:
You can start small — an iPad, a Gizmo watch, a "dumb" phone, or a family device, if you like.
But once you have a system that works, teaching your child the most valuable and universal skill they must have today — "digital literacy" — it's a no-brainer decision to ramp up those experiences and lessons and teaching conversations to help your child be as prepared as humanly possible for this modern world of ours.
Before they "leave the nest."
AND before they think they're ready to. Which, sister let me tell you, is well before they're 18!
The best part is, you don't have to be a part of some secret, exclusive club or school to get started teaching your child what they need to know.
Any scrappy parent with a Mama Bear heart can make this happen for their child.
Still not convinced that getting ahead of this topic is right for you because you love your current strategy of keeping your child away from technology altogether so much?
Let's compare the "cost" of The Keep Away Game in the form of exposure.
The very first time I saw my daughter in an Instagram video was in a friend of her's account.
My daughter didn't have Instagram yet, but she was at a friend's house and they were doing challenges and making videos of them and as I was sitting at home, popcorn in hand, scrolling through my Instagram feed, there she was.
Here's a re-enactment of how the night went, in GIFs:
My lesson learned?
You can't fully control what they'll do at friend's house or what someone on the bus shows them on their phone or even at the park, a birthday party, and yes, even at school.
The only thing that you can control is what you arm your child with — the skills to make safe choices on any device they're on.
For another example, a friend of mine called me in a panic once because her daughter called her in a panic saying that she was about to get into big trouble at school.
The timeline of this series of unfortunate events:
1. My friend's daughter was private messaging with a boy on Instagram.
2. He asked her for a nude photo via a video in a private message.
3. She thought she could handle it herself, so she kept this all to herself.
4. The next day she told a friend about it.
5. The friend told others.
6. The boy heard and so deleted his video, which then deleted it in her messages as well.
7. And then he reported that she was spreading rumors about him.
8. She got called into the office and then she called her mom to tell her all of the above for the very first time.
9. And that's when her mom, called me.
All of this happened in less than 24 hours.
My friend never had a chance to nip this in the bud with her daughter — who is lovely and sweet and super smart, but still, only 13 years old — because they had never had the pre-emptive conversations.
They had never gotten ahead of things.
Until I see a reason to do otherwise, I'm throwing in the towel on reactive parenting and only dealing with things as they come up and focusing INSTEAD on proactively teaching my children the skills they need to make balanced, safe, wise, and kind decisions anywhere they are online with or without me.
My children are far too valuable to spend my time crossing my fingers hoping they'll do the right thing.
Psst! Your child is far too valuable for this, too!
Myth #2: "Phones — and the Internet in general! — are rotting their brains."
I've been at this for over four years and I have yet to find any evidence that says that everything on the Internet is bad.
Just like not every off line activity is good, not every online activity is bad.
Here's what I HAVE found: The trick, or the secret, is teaching your child the skill of discerning which activities are worthy of their time and which ones aren't.
Here's an example:
My children use their online time to code, write music, get homework help, make iMovies, write stories, practice their photography skills, and so (so!) very much more.
And yes, of course, they also use their Internet time to connect with their friends and to watch YouTube videos of other players beating levels in the games they're attempting to dominate. :) This is like an athlete watching tape.**
** When I flip the script to this, I almost understand doing this as an activity :) and I remember that seeing things from their perspective is amazingly eye-opening!
And because I don't "argue" the validity of these uses, I have children who tell me what they're doing and who have no problem whatsoever weaving between online and off line activities.
In fact, they create their own plans for how to do this and what to bookend their online time with.
** Mostly because they want to "do it themselves." And honestly, in this case, I'll totally take that throwback to when they were two years old!
And here are just a few examples of my students reporting inside our course site what their children are doing on the daily without any extra monitoring — or nagging! — from the Moms In Charge:
Lots of parents report that they're "too scared" to let their children try out having a phone, but I'm too scared to NOT be a big part of this WITH them.
I'm a huge believer in jumping in with my kids — holding hands — so that I can be their safety net as a result.
You have to keep in mind that your children will be exposed to the online world with or without you, so meeting them where they are, while they're wired to listen to you (details on that below), is a brilliant choice.
Myth #3: "Kids who have phones don't know how to connect/put them down/interact with the world."
Yes they do. All the time!
While it's true that a hands-off, no teaching approach is never going to work, when you have a great plan in place that you put into action at the right time, it's SUPER EASY to get your child to know how to look up and notice and be a part of this beautiful world of ours.
I send my children to parties and football games and outings and play dates with phones in their pockets (for MY convenience) and NEVER worry about them being the child whose face is glowing from looking at their screen instead of at their friends. I can count on this time and time again: they're NOT the children missing out on small moments in the making.
Recently, I went on a hike with my girls, their friends, and their friends' mom. Us moms got a little bit behind our girls, so we texted them to see where they were.
My friend's daughters replied instantly because they were walking through nature, staring at their phones — good for touching base, not so much for taking in a small moment with their friends.
My girls DIDN'T respond right away, because their phones were tucked safely inside their bags, but they knew when to check in — because I had preemptively taught them this skill — and they did exactly that when it was time to do so.
** And, for the record they teased me for texting them when I should have been enjoying my time with my friend!
Here's another reason why I know that people who are immersed in technology can learn when to use it and when to not: Me! I work in the online world. Social media, Facebook, comments, shares, and texting are — literally — my job. But I am, by all accounts, very (very!) low tech.
I'm never on my phone during social situations (unless I'm awaiting a call from my children, because they will always come first), dinner, or when it's past my bedtime.
Just about every single day I have the chance to choose between the people I'm with and the people inside my phone and I bet that you do, too.
You can teach your child EXACTLY what to do and not do in these situations.
Here's one example: When my children walk in the door from school, they wash their hands, unpack their lunchboxes, plug their phones into our charging station, and take our puppy out for a walk together.
This is just one routine that I've taught them.
Don't miss out on the opportunity to teach your child healthy habits and routines with technology.
Your child can be the one to have a phone AND a walking with the family, snowball fighting, puddle-jumping kind of childhood. These traits are — clearly! — not mutually exclusive.
Myth #4: "Phones were just not made for the under-13 crowd."
This is completely false.
Families who teach their children the skills they need as tweens end up with children — and later, teenagers — who use the Internet in safer and more responsible ways than parents who wait to start the conversations until age 13.
Not only that, but they tend to be less secretive about their phone use. In fact, they WANT to show you what they're doing!
** Believe it or not, left to its own devices, all of that chatter fades after a certain age; unless you create a system designed to keep it going!
Just recently I shared with my course students that when my girls were both tweens — so under 13 years old — I asked them how they felt about me checking their text messages.
Both of them said they'd rather I NOT check the family ones. You might NOT be surprised to hear their answer, but I bet you WILL be surprised to hear their "why!"
You see, they didn't want to be planning a family surprise for me for my birthday or a holiday with each other or their dad and have me see the details and have the surprise ruined.
All that to say: The under 13 crowd approaches their Internet and phone use very, very differently than full-fledged teenagers do.
Just look at these adorable examples from my own kids!
There's a developmental reason for this fact.
Kids aged 9-11 are wired to listen to you, while kids 12-13 are wired to seek out independent, separate-from-you thoughts.
This is a good thing — no failure to launch here! — but it's NOT the right time to start new teaching conversations, rules, and expectations.
** I should say that it's not impossible to do this with teenagers, it's just harder ... on the both of you.
I'd love for you to take a look at this quote from a theorist who I admire. It really breaks this phenomenon down!
So besides the fact that there are SO many good reasons for the under 13 crowd to have phones (staying home alone, walking home alone, babysitting, getting into others' cars, a safety net for being more independent like going to a park with friends and sans adults, to name just a few) ...
... The fact that it's literally EASIER for YOU teach and YOUR CHILD to learn the skills they need to have a healthy relationship with technology at a slightly younger age is a really (really!) good reason to give them access to something — anything from a Gizmo watch to an iPad to a dumb phone to a smart phone — before they turn 13.
So ... now what?!
Being successful with kids + phones + the Internet is really about:
1. Knowing the skills you want your child to have.
2. Understanding the fastest, easiest, and stickiest-to-them way to teach those skills. AND ...
3. Seeing whether or not what you're teaching them is indeed sticking. And if not ...
4. Shifting as needed.
And all of that, my friend, is EXACTLY what I'm teaching in my first-in-forever LIVE + FREE online class!
WOOHOO! Don't forget to sign up for my free class by clicking right here or on the big yellow button below!
You got this, Savvy Parent!
AN INVITATION MADE FOR YOU!
AUTHOR: GALIT BREEN
Hi, I'm Galit. (*My name is pronounced guh-leet + means little waves, like in the ocean.) I give you the tools you need to let your kids benefit from the amazing things the online world has to offer them and create a popsicle dripping, chapter book reading (in one sitting!), leaf crunching childhood that they deserve. Welcome, I'm so glad you're here. What can you expect from me? I spill it all right here.