“My 10 year old son has been saving his money for years, and after doing yard work for neighbors the whole summer, can afford to not only buy an iPhone, but pay for the data month by month for an entire year. Should we let him get it?”
We get questions like this constantly. To make matters more difficult for parents, the beginning of school can make saying “no” a lot harder. Teachers using Twitter and Facebook to communicate with students (even in middle school), and other students with unlimited access to just about any technology make the peer pressure tough! So why do you say no? Should you just give in, especially if you aren’t the one paying for it? There is nothing inherently wrong with an iPhone, or any smart phone for that matter. In fact, every member of our ministry team probably couldn’t function very well without their iPhones.
So what’s the difference with kids?
iPhones are an adult device, even though children often seem to know how to use them better than we do. Just because the function of an iPhone comes naturally to a child, doesn’t mean the content does. iPhones, and any smart phone, were not created to keep kids safe. In fact, there are so many things about them that are not even considered safe or wholesome for adults. Our society has been surprised by the cell phone addiction, or even epidemic, with few “mature” adults knowing when or how to unplug. Manners and face to face relationships are often compromised by countless apps. Instead of creative problem solving, more and more turn to Google for answers, and while fast answers aren’t necessarily bad, the quality isn’t always there, and out of the box thinking becomes limited to the archives of Wikipedia.
How can we expect our kids to responsibly use an iPhone or smart phone if we ourselves haven’t learned yet? The answer is simple: we can’t. If your child “needs” a phone – and sometimes it would absolutely make a parents life easier for sports practice, etc, we highly recommend getting a “dumb” phone. Here’s why.
Historically, Apple hasn’t been keen on working with child safety software developers. A new Apple software update changes entirely the effectiveness of any parental controls app, making it difficult to consistently keep your child safe. This could change, but for the time being it’s not easy. And certainly not kid-proof.
Data; content appropriate for children and content that probably isn’t a good idea even for adults. The App Store is full of “adult content”, as is iTunes, Youtube, and anything accessible via a browser app. Unless you are extremely cautious, stay as up to date as possible with the latest “child safe browser”, and have everything disabled (Location Services for example) with a password only you know, all of that is literally impossible to monitor.
Socially speaking, technology isn’t doing anyone any favors. In fact, studies are showing despite having a thousand friends on Facebook and countless Twitter followers, you may be at the height of loneliness. If adults are so keenly feeling the loss of true relationships, how much worse is it for children, whose brains have yet to be fully developed to realize the full loss? Do we even want to know that answer? Most of us adults didn’t grow up with cell phones, or if we did, it wasn’t until our later teen years. We certainly never dealt with online relationships the way our kids have to now. If you could go back in time, would you skip the time you had with friends in favor of Facetime, iMessage and social media? My guess is you wouldn’t. We need to not only fight for our own friendships in ‘real life’, but for our children as well.
There really is life outside of technology, but that is being realized less and less. Children need to learn and value imagination. They need to be able to think clearly and problem solve. They need to know anything is possible, that creativity is a gift that can be easily stifled. The more time spent on devices, especially iPhones, the less they can do these things. Recently I was talking with an extremely gifted film maker, barely 20, and with sparkle still in his eyes. I was shocked to discover he had grown up not even owning a television. He occasionally went to the movies, but that was it! How had he become so gifted at film when he had personally seen so little of it over the years? His answer was incredible: “I grew up using my imagination. When other kids were watching a screen, I was outside and living; dreaming. Playing and imagining”.
It’s inevitable that our kids will one day “need” smart phones. It’s where our world is going, and knowing how to effectively use technology is vital to their success. However, for as long as possible, let your children be children. They’ll be adults soon enough, and their life will not be the same. Never again will they be as truly ‘unplugged’ as they can be right now. When the time does come for them to plug in, make every effort to help them make that transition gracefully. Set time limits. Know how to filter and monitor so adult content isn’t accessed on their device. Make face to face relationships an absolute priority for them. Create a device usage contract and hold them to it. Maybe if we teach our children what we’ve learned from the mistakes we’ve been making with technology, we’ll help them avoid some of the pain we’ve experienced.