If you follow us on social media, you’ve no doubt seen us championing an important movement called Wait Until 8th that started with a handful of moms in Texas. Wait Until 8th is less than a year old and has already been featured on multiple national platforms including NPR, Good Morning America, the Today Show, and more. The premise of the campaign is to motivate parents to stand together in extending childhood by waiting until at least the 8th grade to give their kids smart phones. It all starts with an online pledge, and when at least 10 families from their kids’ school and grade have signed, the pledge goes into effect, giving parents and kids a sense of partnership with others who are standing against the cultural tide of over-connectedness.
When we first heard of Wait Until 8th, we knew these were our kind of people. Backed by solid evidence and pure common sense, these moms and dads were urging parents all over the nation to take a long hard look at WHY kids were getting these powerful, and often damaging, devices at younger and younger ages. They were calling it like they see it: peer pressure.
As we’ve talked to parents at schools and churches across the nation, we’ve seen and heard the same thing. Parents seem to be motivated by the pressure their kids feel to be part of the connected “in” crowd. My own kids’ classmates had phones and Instagram accounts as young as the third grade — around 9 years old. And some of those kids were friend-requesting ME! (I promptly gave them a safety talk on why they shouldn’t be trying to communicate with adults online.)
Because Parents Who Fight focuses so much on the acute dangers online, we’ve long felt sick to our stomach about kids having a high level of access to mature content through smartphones and social media. But now, the research is revealing additional prolonged and chronic dangers: long-term mental health risks brought on by living too much of life through glowing screens.
For all of these same reasons, Wait Until 8th is resonating with thousands and drawing national attention. It’s helping parents unite and push back on the cultural “norms.”
We’re Living It
Before the Wait Until 8th pledge even existed, our family was already living in the beauty of it’s desired intent: most of our kids’ closest friends were being raised by parents who shared our values about protecting kids online and living balanced lives which includes plenty of screen-free time. It has been beyond helpful as we navigate the middle school years for our kids (and us!) to know they are not alone in their device-less existence.
And not only have we appreciated the value of this solidarity, but you might be surprised to know that our kids have as well. They comment on the way their peers are glued to devices after school. And they’ve witnessed the drama and pain caused by snapchat fights, sexting, and online bullying. They actually feel very thankful to be spared from all of that.
In fact, our 13-year-old son, who has been serving on Microsoft’s teen Council for Digital Good since April, has started to purposely embrace his digital deprivation. In his interaction with the Microsoft leadership and the other teens on the council, he’s been able to listen and learn more about the treacherous landscape kids are facing online. So when it came time for him to boil down his personal online safety manifesto into a one-point “platform” of sorts to contribute to the council, he came up with something astounding. Something we had been saying for YEARS, and something he had pushed back plenty on when he was younger. I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing—my son’s contribution to the council was to highlight the importance of WAITING until your kids are at least 13 to allow access to social media and smart phones. I felt like crying as I realized that he had begun to internalize our external boundaries as actual wisdom.
Not that he is perfect or that we are completely in the clear on the many issues confronting him through the online world. We’re still having PLENTY of conversations about video games and fighting to keep all that in balance as he gets older and the “popular” games get super creepy (my opinion — yes, I’m a woman… I just don’t think that a game that has the sole objective of killing other people should be considered entertainment). But I can at least see that he is thinking about things through a different lens, and listening with a more mature perspective. (Did I mention he would make a great lawyer? The kid has evidence, reasoning, and questions for everything!)
Our Christmas Gift Values
As we get read to open Christmas gifts, I’m happy to realize that not one thing under our tree has to do with the Internet, other than some iTunes gift cards for our music lovers. There are books, card games, workout gear, and toy cars, to name a few. It makes me very, very thankful that they will be delighted with these simple treasures.
If you are a parent who, like us, feels strongly about the importance of delaying smartphones and social media, we encourage you to check out the Wait Until 8th pledge and talk to the parents in your sphere about it. Although it might feel like everyone on the planet is giving their kid a tablet or smartphone this year, it’s just not true. There are still plenty of us left, and we are actually growing in numbers.
And for those who have already crossed that threshold, we hope you’ll check out some of the simple tech tools like Circle, Covenant Eyes, and Bark that really do make your kids’ Internet experience so much safer.
Merry Christmas, everyone! And may 2018 be our most influential year yet in the way we parent our kiddos!