Springtime brings renewal and the warming sun will soon color our landscape with daffodils, green grass, flowering shrubs. I promise, it’s on the way! The end of the school year is also traditionally the time when parents consider new privileges for their children as they move up to the next grade level. Sleepovers, later bedtimes, and personal electronic devices (PEDs) are among rites of passage that will begin to be topics of conversation among and between our families, and I thought I’d share some thoughts as we approach the season.
In 2018 BCD hosted a renowned social media expert on campus to work with our students and families. We were sensing and seeing a rise in social media use (and the issues surrounding that use), and our families, like others across this nation, were struggling to keep up with ways to parent in this rapidly changing environment. As part of that effort, we learned that about 25% of our 3rd graders had smartphones and Instagram accounts. Think about that for a moment…25% of our 8 year-olds had full access to social media even though 13 is the age when children are officially permitted to open accounts! As our students age, more and more gain access to the point where by the time our students reach middle school it feels like every student is on Tik Tok.
The good news is that social media use and escalation does not have to start in 3rd grade. In fact, there is a growing movement called Wait Until 8th that seeks to empower parents and families “to say yes to waiting for the smartphone.” The allure of the smartphone is real, and I suspect we all have some kind of experience thinking about how the devices are changing our children’s childhood. The folks at Wait Until 8th note that playing outdoors, spending time with friends, reading books and hanging out with family is happening a lot less to make room for hours of snap-chatting, instagramming, and catching up on You Tube.
In the past several years, disciplinary issues in our middle school related to social media use have been on the rise. Dan Welch, our Middle School Head, notes, “I usually compare technology to driving a vehicle. In the wrong hands or without training it can be very dangerous. When I speak with parents about their students’ online behavior, parents typically have no idea what their kids are doing and in many cases don’t even know how to check. When they do check they are shocked. So, I’d like to see parents being more active regardless if the tech is a smart phone, a computer or a video game. ”
School Counselor Sterling Kranjcec noted, “I think as parents, the idea of cell phones for our children brings up a lot of mixed emotions. On the one hand, they are convenient for accessing our children, a safety measure for them to have access to us, and a way for them to connect with their peers and extended family, but we also recognize that these benefits come at a high cost. Research points to a very real and concerning relationship between social media and gaming, and depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders, including suicidality. So, the prospect of both getting a smartphone or not getting one, can feel overwhelming. I love the idea of a movement to postpone the acquisition of phones. If everyone is on the same page, the pressures among parents/ guardians, and children diminishes across the board. I can’t think of a better gift that we could give our children– their childhood, and better odds of happiness and mental wellbeing.
My experience is that smartphones can be addictive, another challenge to overcome in the era of “now.” They are also academic and social-emotional distractions. Maybe most importantly, smartphones increase the risk of exposure to inappropriate content and cyber-bullying.
So, what can we do? While our role as school leaders is not to tell families how to parent concerning smartphones, we are often asked for advice to help support parents who are struggling with these issues. Some schools are making space for parents to gather to adopt voluntary grade level guidelines like Wait Until 8th. Having guidelines makes it easier for parents to hold off on providing smartphones if they know the other parents in the grade are doing the same. Parent education is also key. We plan to host Parent Education Series events on the topic and are already planning a few for next fall.
We have heard many times over from parents who describe the benefits of the PS – 8th grade experience as “keeping our children younger longer.” Smartphones, access to social media, and today’s fast-paced environment threatens this experience. Add to this the global pandemic, which has closed off so many avenues for socialization and friend-making. Social media seems to be creeping in to fill the void.
Our hope, indeed our goal, is to empower families to encourage their children to grow up at a pace that aligns with their family values. Let’s protect that precious time where kids can be kids, and help them establish a sense of competence and confidence now so that when faced with the endless pressure of posts being liked/followed they know their self-worth.
Each spring I meet with our 8th graders to learn about their BCD experience. Last year, only 7 out of 34 graduating 8th graders did not have a smartphone. I’d love to see this trend increase in the coming years. Please, think long and hard about the purchase of a phone for your child. Review the guidelines for screen time and media use from Common Sense Media, and maybe talk to other parents who have made the choice not to provide a phone to learn about their experiences. And, don’t forget to strongly consider Wait Until 8th. I guarantee you will not be the only family to make that choice.
In the meantime, we’ll continue to do our part to bring these issues and solutions to your attention. The more we can be aligned, the safer and happier we believe our students and community will be.
I also want to add that there are middle ground options if a family feels they need a phone for safety and communication. This article is helpful for making thoughtful decisions around what the desires and needs are, so the sacrifices we make for those are not so great. https://www.parents.com/kids/safety/internet/best-phones-for-kids/.”