Children and Technology: How Young is Too Young?

My pre-teen is venturing into the screen-social world. Many of her friends have smartphones and those who don’t have devices like the iPod touch, iPad mini, or Kindle. Lately, I am plagued with questions:

How young is too young?

Will the pros ever outweigh the cons when it comes to devices?

And am I tech-savvy enough to stay one step ahead of my kid?

The truth is, our children need constraints when it comes to technology and parental controls only go so far. This generation of children can far surpass their parents when it comes to using devices and navigating around parental limitations. Call me lazy, but I don’t want to spend my time checking her device, enforcing screen-limits, or double checking that she is being safe online. And that is the MINIMUM of what parents should be doing if their child has a device. I have seen the dangers of devices in the hands of even the most logical of adults, and let’s be honest…a middle school girl is neither logical, nor adult.

I don’t mean to sound anti-technology.

Teaching high school for the past 15 years has allowed me to see how teens have used technology to shape their environment. Some of it is pretty remarkable. However, I also see how some are letting their environment shape them. I see how technology is starting to limit them instead of encourage them. Students all-to-often are letting their devices control their emotions, their decision making, and their self-perception. Face-to-face social skills are diminishing. Self-esteem is wavering. Attention and focus demand to be entertained. 

I want my daughter to realize if I say no to using a device, I am not withholding from her as much as I am giving to her.

I am giving her innocence.

She has no idea that sweet musical.ly app in which she naively wants to make lip-sync videos with her friends, gives her access to pornography and self-harm videos. She doesn’t realize that 25% of Snapchatters are sending “sensitive content” and almost half of that is screenshot and forwarded. I want to save her from scrolling Instagram and realizing why it was deemed the worst social media network for mental health.

I am limiting the drama.

I am offering her a true escape from the drama of middle school. While some of her peers may escape their anxiety, unease, or uncomfortable situations by disappearing into their phones; I want to offer her a true place of escape, where she can return home from school at the end of each day and not feel as though she is at the mercy of the notifications on her device.

I’m saying yes to her dignity.

At her age, her brain is wired to be self-centered and lack reason or logic, like every other pre-teen brain. She’s going to mess up. Her friends are going to mess up. Her mistakes don’t need to be broadcast via social media for everyone to see and neither do her friends’ mistakes. When people mess up, they deserve the respect of forgiveness and grace. No one deserves to have their mistakes gossiped about via text or social media. Our most valuable lessons are often learned from our mistakes. I want her to make lots of them so she can learn from them. 

I am helping her build self-confidence. 

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death at her age. We need to help our adolescents understand that their self-worth goes far beyond the validation of likes or retweets. Teach them that the value of a friendship reaches further than a Snapstreak. She needs to know that filters to slim your face, widen your eyes, or brighten your teeth are not only obvious but unnecessary. She needs to understand that her heart is the best filter she’ll ever have. That her kindness shines through in her smile and compassion for others.

I am providing her boundaries.

Our children need to know that “no” and “I love you” can mean the same thing. Like when I told her “no” as a toddler when she wanted to touch the fireplace in winter.  Or as a preschooler, when she threw tantrum after tantrum as I strapped her into her car seat. Or again as a school-ager when she darted into the street after a ball. And now as a pre-teen, when she asks for a smartphone that – even with parental controls – may introduce more harm than good at her age. It’s understandable when I say no, it sometimes breaks her heart. But, because I love her, I’m willing to break it. It is not the first time she has been disappointed, nor will it be the last.

My daughter is quickly learning that disagreement and disappointment have zero correlation with respect and unconditional love. Someday I will cave. I will gift her with Pandora’s box and let her curiosity for technology run wild.

Until that day, I will enjoy watching her eyes interact with the world around her instead of the screen in front of her. 

At what age did you give your child a phone or device to text?
Do you ever wish you had waited longer?

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