So a couple of months before Christmas, my 11-year-old son asked to get a mobile phone for Christmas.
Our initial reaction was no, wait until secondary school. As time went on he gave some very persuasive arguments as to why it would be a good idea. He was well able to discuss and debate any issue we had with it, have to admire his discussion skills! Below are some of the points we dwelled on
Being left out- I don’t want my child to miss out on friends or activities but he is our eldest and I don’t want him to be the first of his peers to get things. Initially, I was told, 'everyone is getting one' and we got a list of names thrown out there. I spoke to the mums I knew and while a few were getting phones, most weren't or they were getting old ones from their parents. The ideal situation was to wait until 13.
Snapchat – “all my friends are on Snapchat” “They all organise to meet up and play on Snapchat and I am being left out”. When I investigated that, I found most were on Snapchat either on an iPad or phone, so we decided on a trail on Snapchat on the iPad at home. We checked it regularly and discussed what was acceptable and not. It appears innocent enough at this stage, ‘streaks’ which are highly addictive (usually a photo of the floor - Snapchat wants to see a photo sent each day) and lots of hi, you there? The first few days he lost the plot when he couldn't keep checking the Snapchat, FOMO! But he got over that once the novelty wore off.
Landline- We don’t have a landline so there is the occasion where he might be in the house on his own for an hour and we have no way of contacting him nor can he contact us, a mobile would be useful for this. Also, if he is out playing and we need to get in touch a phone would be useful. I have found it really useful for both of these reasons since Christmas.
Screentime-No Xbox during the week and screentime finishes at 7 pm in our house on a weekday, this would include any phone, no screen in the morning or until homework is completed in the afternoons. This together with sports activities means that there is little time for the screen during the week. The holidays were different. Also, the iPad needed replacing and the phone ticked that box!
School- The school does not allow phones so that isn't an issue. This is helpful as a parent if your child has a need for a phone at school you can write for permission. 3 weeks before Christmas we got a note from the principal to say that she would suggest that 5 & 6 classes were not to have smartphones, she had dealt with a class group on Instagram and unacceptable behaviour. For us, this note came too late, had it happened a month earlier we might have pulled the plan. While I want to make my own decision as the parent, it does help if peers are in the same situation.
Rules-We decided that he could get a phone for Christmas, with rules like
- We know the code and can check anytime
- No phone upstairs
- No screen after 7 pm school days
- We must approve any app before it is downloaded.
- He was to talk to us if any issue/concern
Learning- We decided to go with a sim plan where he doesn't have data and has limited calls and texts. Really he uses it when in a wifi zone. We felt it was a good lesson for him to understand the cost of calls etc rather than going onto a monthly plan. He has to save the money to top it up.
Openness - I believe in open discussion with my children, honesty and encourage them to come to us with any concerns. I believe in helping them create a good moral compass, talking through situations that happen with him and his peers. I encourage them to distance themselves from undesirable situations, in person or online and come to us.
Two weeks ago, he took his phone to school (switched off), I discovered this while he was at school so met him at the school gate and it was confiscated for a week! Now he has his phone back and we keep asking ourselves did we make the right choice? I prefer the personality I had around for the week without the phone.
All the recent press would indicate that children should not have phones until they are 13 as they aren't mature enough for it. What I see in my son is less engagement with us and a constant waiting to hear back from the ‘cool kids’. Snapchat is controlling him, not the other way around. So now that I think we made the wrong decision, mainly because he cant cope with the addictive nature of it all and the FOMO, what do we do?
Do we remove it and acknowledge the mistake or do we keep monitoring and guiding him? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.