Two truths: I am all about keeping my children safe (duh) and I love my iPhone (double duh). After all, I am a 30-something American mother who's raising a 3-and-a-half-year-old and a 6-year-old, and I doubt either of those facts make me much different than the majority of my phone-obsessed, helicopter-parenting peers. As much as I would love my children to have the kind of free-range, unplugged childhood that I experienced (and sure, there are ways of making that happen in our modern world), I know that moment has, for the most part, passed.
For better or worse — OK definitely for worse — one of my daughter's main sources of education is YouTube
and at present, my family owns three iPads (one for each child and a spare in case my son's cracked screen gets even worse), two computers, two iPhones, and four smart TVs. We are connected.
However, my love for and reliance on technology has its limits. And when I started seeing my daughter's elementary school peers pulling out their iPhones at pick up, I realized that giving a 7-year-old his own phone to stash in his
Pokémon backpack surpassed those limits.
I get the reasons a parent would give their young child a phone. Ostensibly, having a constant line to mom and dad will keep them safer in a world that can seem scary and unpredictable. Being able to reach your child at all times sounds like a positive. And who knows what horrors might lurk on the three-block walk home from school? (I kid, though I know many moms who are sure they exist.)
Plus, we're all so used to being connected to our devices all the time that keeping our children equally plugged-in can seem like the only rational decision. Why not be able to text them when you're running two minutes late or want them to head to a friend's house for a play date after school?
We're all so used to being connected to our devices all the time that keeping our children equally plugged-in can seem like the only rational decision.
Except — and this is why I refuse to get my kids phones until they're well past fifth-grade graduation — elementary school is the time our children should be learning real independence for the first time. Last year, I put my daughter on the bus on the first day of kindergarten, not confident that she'd be able to make it from the bus drop-off to her classroom (OK, I might have followed her to school to make sure she did), and by the end of the year, I wasn't even meeting her at the bus stop after school. This might sound small, but it isn't to her. Walking that block from the bus to our house alone made her feel strong.
I'm not saying having a phone in her pocket during that walk would totally eliminate that lesson in independence, but do I think that both of us knowing she was carrying a tracking device that can call mom by pushing a single button would lessen it? How could it not?
Then there are the obvious arguments that giving a child a device loaded with games, social-media apps, and a camera at a young age just sounds like a bad idea. Prepuberty, shouldn't we give them a chance to just be little kids who don't take daily selfies and post them on Instagram? And knowing how easy it is to get addicted to our own phones, how can we expect them, with their wildly undeveloped brains and senses of self-control, to be able to focus on their school lessons and work when they have a highly addictive source of mindless entertainment in their pockets?
For me, the reasons not to give a grade schooler a phone totally outweigh the advantages. Yes, we want our children to be safe; yes, we want to be there for them — in person or by phone — as much as possible. But teaching them to be focused and self-reliant feels way more important. Their very own iPhone? Let's at least try to hold out until middle school.