This blog post could actually be shortened to a tweet. Here’s what it would say. Q: Should I let my 10 year old have a phone? A: No. End of. On point, but devoid of details and not hugely helpful. As this conundrum crops up a lot in my house at the moment (Polly – our eldest child – is ten and a half) I thought it might be useful to explain why my husband and I are so adamant that she shouldn’t be given a phone any time soon.
Glow Kids by Nicholas Kardaras is a brilliant, if terrifying read. Addiction expert Dr. Kardaras has formed a well rounded, articulate argument about technology and how it profoundly affects the brains of children (and not for the better).
Phones and the autistic child
Before I get started, please don’t confuse this piece with righteousness and virtue signalling. We’ve given the phone topic many hours of thought and debate in our house, which is why I think it’s worth sharing. This opinion piece is also worth a read. Mine and Hubby’s decision has been carefully considered, which is usually the opposite of what happens prior to kids being given phones, because it’s become a so-called right. Everyone else is getting a phone and I want one. So when the time comes for an upgrade on the parents’ phone, the logical step is to give it to their kid. With the intention in the beginning for them to not go on any social media or apps their folks don’t approve of. All great in principle, but it doesn’t usually work out like this, because who actually has the time to monitor each of their kids as closely as that would take?
However, when you have an autistic child in your care, close monitoring and tediously careful planning has to take place. Otherwise disaster will be imminent. If we were to simply hand over a phone to our girl, just because everyone was doing it, I don’t think it would even take a week before we started seeing the negative affects. Polly got given her first tablet as a Christmas present the year after turning five. Like most parents, we were extra cautious with our firstborn’s first device – putting strict controls on time limits and only being allowed to access child friendly content. What we learnt the hard way, was that sometimes, the most innocuous looking games cause the most problems.
Which leads me nicely onto my next point: dopamine. I’d be lying if I said I knew anything about dopamine five years ago, when we entered the kids-and-tech arena, but a lot can happen in half a decade. Especially when you’re raising young children. Our first experience of games causing problems was when Shopkins was all the rage for small children. Essentially you picked a character, then you chased and was chased throughout the game to earn points. The points were endless and (of course) linked to in-app purchases, which is how games make their £££. It took us a while, but we figured out there was something about these chasing games that caused major meltdowns when P’s time was up. We now know it’s because those games feed right into our dopamine receptors. Making us feel happy when we’re winning and sad when we’re losing.
Sound familiar? Did social media immediately spring to your mind like it did mine? Happy hormones flood our brains when we’re getting positive interactions and misery overtakes us when we’re not. Depression and social media addiction are being intrinsically linked to each other. Dopamine dysfunction is linked to symptoms of ADHD and often cited when diagnosing eating disorders and self-harm. Instagram, in particular, with its selfie culture and the comparisonitis it breeds, is a hotbed for mental health problems. Adults are struggling big time with finding balance, so why on earth have we decided it’s ok to let our kids run loose on it? Admittedly, it’s a long read, but this blog post from Harvard is fascinating.
Peer pressure and FOMO will pass
From what I can see, it’s the classic snowball effect. Other kids in their class are given phones, so we let ours have one. Their friends have Instagram, so we allow them to create an account, even though they’re not nearly thirteen yet. We justify it as “normal” and say it’s simply what kids do these days. They need to learn how to use it responsibly and best they start early, right? Nope, because in my experience, these things spiral really quickly. Before we know it they’re on their phone all-the-time.
My friends with older kids tell me that their teens (and pre-teens) communicate with each other via social media DMs. One friend said her 13 year old son gets around a thousand notifications a day. Am I the only person on the planet (a) who thinks this is utterly absurd; and (b) whose head feels like it’ll explode just thinking about all those beeps and dings? Don’t you think it’s high time the children themselves had a revolution and put an end to the madness?
No, we can’t wrap our kids in cotton wool, but we can do our utmost to prepare them for this strange world we currently live in. Surely giving them access to technology they aren’t mature enough for is the opposite of this? Gabor Maté sums it up here in the brilliant video below. His book Hold on to Your Kids is well worth a read too.
Final words on giving kids phones
Call me cynical, but I can already feel the collective eye rolls. You might be thinking: I’ve already given them a phone, there’s nothing I can do now, but you’d be wrong. When it comes to our children, there is ALWAYS something else that can be done. If you’ve noticed significant changes in your child – which have coincided with them being given a phone – there is probably a link. Like many other parents of 10 year olds, if you’re sitting on the fence and thinking you’ll give them one soon, I urge you to heavily research everything and anything you’re concerned about first. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain, because it might just start a domino effect with other parents who feel exactly the same as you do.
I’ve not written this piece as a dig at mums and dads, far from it. We’re all stressed out with life and sometimes kids being on their devices feels like the only way we’ll get five minutes peace. But, on the same note, I have seen vicious and wilful blindness when it comes to this topic. So, if these words of mine have stirred up emotion or “made you feel bad” then don’t roll your eyes, take action. Do something different to stop the car crash that could be coming for your child. I’ve used quote marks, because no one can make you feel bad, only you can make yourself feel bad. Reflection upon our own choices can make us feel shit in the short term, but if it leads to a better decision being made, then it absolutely has to be a good thing.