Should We Take a Group Pledge to Delay Smartphones?

The Wall Street Journal recently mentioned Concord Promise in an article about parents joining together to delay smartphones and the impacts of those types of pacts on communities and children. Concord Promise partner Dr. Richard Freed argued in favor of such pacts, citing research and the effects of screens on not just the child who has the phone but those who do not.

Alexandra Samuel presented a counter-opinion claiming this approach is a one-size-fits-all solution that does more harm than good. While Concord Promise encourages parents to delay smartphones, social media, unrestricted internet access and online gaming as long as possible, we concede that Ms. Samuel makes some valid points.

As co-founder of Concord Promise, we put much thought into creating a mission which has always supported ALL parents through educational opportunities and partnerships with professionals in the field. Regardless of a family’s decision to delay, we believe in inclusivity and that education is most important in preparing kids for a media-saturated world. We also encourage parents to talk tech with their kids as early as possible, regardless of how much time a family spends engaging with screens and technology. And we encourage parents to talk with each other. Smartphones are supposed to connect us but people feel more alone today than ever. We are bringing people together.

As more communities have expressed interest in launching similar movements, we have expanded and extended Concord Promise through a new organization called Turning Life On. Turning Life On is an online platform for community-based groups of parents and educators who support implementing healthy technology practices in their families and communities. Again, the mission of Turning Life On is to unite ALL community members because we realize healthy tech use goes beyond smartphones in middle school.

That is not to say that the importance of a public promise to delay smartphones is diminished. Let’s face it, the kids WITH phones are not the ones being ostracized or feeling left out. This is often why parents eventually end up getting smartphones for their children.

In terms of safety, Concord Promise, Turning Life On and Wait Until 8th all fully support smartphone alternatives. It is not the calling capability that harms children. It is the unrestricted, at-your-fingertips access to the internet, social media and gaming that make smartphones risky for kids.

As parents and people who care about children, we should encourage children to engage in healthy, offline activities. Throughout childhood and into adolescents, children are developing habits and skills that will serve them in the future. We wouldn’t allow our children to rush home from school to eat ice cream, Dorritos and Twinkies. We teach them and encourage them to choose healthy snacks. We set them up for success by filling our homes with fresh fruits and vegetables. The same should be true for their “media diets.” There are plenty of kids who do come home from school and read a book, create art, play outside and engage in other healthy activities. This should always be our goal regardless of whether our children have smartphones or not.

Concord Promise and Turning Life On fully understand that every family and community is different, with different needs, and that some situations demand the use of a smartphone. We support those situations. But this does not mean that ALL students should have access to a device that has known negative health effects. Instead, we should teach kids empathy, and help them to understand that children are different and those differences make our communities interesting and wonderful.

Unfortunately, granting children access to smartphones only hampers their ability to develop empathy. As PJ Manney explains in this Live Science Op-Ed, in many instances, technology is destroying empathy. A UCLA study showed that preteens who took a five-day break from smartphones were better able to recognize nonverbal cues, which is directly related to empathy. The military uses violent video games to desensitize soldiers. Let’s not desensitize our youth, especially in the world we currently find ourselves.

Is abstinence the answer? Of course not. Technology is everywhere and kids are being exposed whether their parents sign Concord Promise, Wait Until 8th or nothing at all. But technology is also a powerful tool that should be shared when appropriate. We teach kids about driving when it’s appropriate and hand them the keys when they’re ready to handle the responsibility of driving. We would never expect or allow our 10 year-olds to engage in sexual activity. Likewise we should be cautious about giving them access to a smartphone, which puts the world’s biggest collection of porn right in their pocket.   

These conversations are important. Technology is everywhere and it’s impacting our lives in profound ways. Let’s give our kids opportunities to be kids, to develop the skills necessary to eventually manage technology. This way technology won’t manage them.

Adrienne PrincipeComment