Should you cave in and give your 8-year-old a smartphone?
Lucca Reinoso, 11, has been asking for a phone since she was 8.
Apparently, said her mother, nearly all of Lucca’s friends have had phones since they were 8, so Lucca has been the only child left out of this special club for three years.
“She’s so persistent,” said Carrie Reinoso, Lucca’s mother. But Reinoso isn’t backing down anytime soon.
“I want her to stay a kid as long as she can,” said Reinoso, explaining that she gave her 21-year-old son, Niko, a phone when he was 10, and he started sneaking out with his friends at 11, followed by even more “teenager stuff,” which Reinoso blamed on the phone.
“Once you give technology, it’s super hard to take it back,” Reinoso said.
But if everyone else is giving their child access to technology, do you want to be the only parent restricting it? Parents of tweens and teens are largely in unchartered territory, as there are no real guidelines on the age and amount of technology that’s appropriate. Add social media to the mix, and it’s a maze that parents must navigate among seemingly daily warnings of the danger of it all. But try to mention this to your child, who will remind you that you’re the only parent in the universe worried about it.
The average teen spends nine hours per day using technology, according to Common Sense Media, while tweens spend six hours, not including time spent on media for schoolwork.
As the parent of a middle schooler and a high schooler, Lynn Zakeri, a licensed clinical social worker in the Chicago area, battles the technology issue frequently.
Zakeri found that her children and her clients’ children react best when they understand the basis of the rules.
“Be clear to yourself with your own reasoning, and if you have clarity over your beliefs and you are in fact acting in your child’s best interest, then stay true to that,” she said.
Discussions have more impact than statements or lectures, Zakeri said. For example, if everyone is vaping, then simply saying, “Don’t you dare vape, or you will be in trouble,” wouldn’t be as effective as educating your child about nicotine addiction and toxic ingredients.
“Or, for example, everyone is using Snapchat,” Zakeri said. “Do I say, ‘You can’t have Snapchat,’ or do I say, as I actually did in real life with my child, ‘When you can explain to me why Snapchat will make your life better, not worse, then you can have a Snapchat.’”
Collaborating with your child on the rules also helps, said Kelsey Torgerson, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in adolescents.
Torgerson suggested having your teen come up with ground rules for technology expectations and consequences he or she will face if rules are broken.
“Sometimes, your teen will come up with a much harsher consequence than you would have come up with yourself,” Torgerson said.
It’s often difficult for parents to figure out their own rules regarding technology since much of it wasn’t around when they were teens. A conversation with their children helps, as does simply observing their child’s behavior with regard to tech habits.
“Some of it is trial and error,” said Wyatt Fisher, a licensed psychologist and marriage counselor in Boulder, Colo. “Usually, if a teen has too much — and too little — tech time, it creates problems. Therefore, you’ll need to find that right balance for your family to ensure your teen is developing into a healthy, responsible adult.”
But there will be times when you and your child simply can’t come to an agreement. He wants a cellphone, and you don’t think he’s ready. He wants to text as soon as he gets home, and you want the phone to be off-limits until he finishes his homework.
“Even if you know your rules are fair, try and empathize with your teen’s frustration,” Torgerson said. “Sometimes, just telling your teen that you understand they’re upset, or you get why they’re bothered, takes the wind out of their sails.”
Calm empathy is a huge first step toward having a productive conversation about the rules, she said.
After all, the technology debate is essentially a peer-pressure issue, and as a parent, you have a unique opportunity to shape your tween’s or teen’s independence and decision-making skills via this topic, Torgerson said.
This can be a teaching moment, said Sal Raichbach, psychologist with the Ambrosia Counseling Center in Chicago.
“Discuss with your child the importance of marching to his or her own beat, rather than the beat of others,” Raichbach said. “Stress the importance of individuality, offer up ideas for activities that do not include screen time and remain compassionate yet in control.”
Perhaps then, you’ll have a happy teen. Or, at least, a less tech-obsessed teen.
Danielle Braff is a freelance writer.