As parents of high school and middle school boys, Zach and I feel like we are treading in a whole new world, magic carpets excluded. This new frontier is the digital world of social media, smartphones, and other devices. In this new world, we are facing questions that no other generation of parents have ever had to deal with.
- What age should your child own their very own smartphone?
- What age is appropriate for them to engage in social media?
- What are appropriate screen time limits and expectations to have with your child?
We certainly are not experts in this field. We are very much still parents-in-training. But, we feel compelled to share our example, hoping it will help you as you navigate parenting in a digital age. If anything, you will see that amidst all of the questions we still have, the best thing that parents can continue to do is have regular conversations with their kids.
Should All Children Be Treated Equally?
When our oldest son turned twelve, we got him an iPhone. Here are a few different reasons for this decision:
- Our son had begun working for us and had earned enough money to not only purchase a phone but then make the additional monthly payments on the phone.
- The boys were going to be making a cross-country airline flight to their grandparent’s house and we wanted a way to contact them on their layover.
- Our son was filming trick shots and we were tired of sharing our phones for his hours-long hobby. Any other parents relate?!
- Participation in sports made having a phone almost mandatory. A quick text could let us know when to pick up if a schedule change had happened, when a practice ended early, or when a meet or game was over.
Fast forward three and a half years later. Our second son just turned twelve and we faced a problem. There was no question as far as our younger son was concerned. He believed that since his older brother got one at twelve, then he would too. But we had some reservations. Having experienced monitoring a phone for a while, and becoming (hopefully) wiser and (definitely) older parents, we knew what we were getting into. So we broke the age-old parenting rule of thou shalt treat all thine children equally. He didn’t get a phone.
Although it was for him to understand, it was even harder for us to explain as parents. It boiled down to prayer and a gut feeling. We felt angst and not peace about him having his own smartphone. I don’t think we made a mistake getting our older son a phone, but I also don’t think we have made a mistake postponing it for our second.
You can make different boundaries for your kids based on their own individual needs.
While we as a nation have a set age rule about driving (16), voting (18), or drinking alcohol (21), we don’t have many regulations for owning a phone, except that you better pay your monthly payments. And while some social media platforms have a mandatory age of 13, statistics show those mandates are at best unknown or flatly ignored. In 2018 it was reported that the average age of children who were signing up for social media was 12.6 years old. Cleveland Clinic found that 50% of children 10-12 years old and 33% of children 7-9 years old use social media apps. (For more on that follow this link.)
In a world where less than 5% of the Earth’s land is unaffected by humans, it was assumed that there were no new frontiers to explore. Then social media burst onto the scene. A group of moms has been making news recently for pushing Congress to make social-media companies more accountable. They are advocating new territory for us as humanity. Some say that phone usage is a guardian’s decision. Others say that the government needs to step in, specifically to implement stricter social media policies. And that is what makes this topic so challenging for parents.
Regardless of where you land, it is not a fad, and it is not going away. The answer certainly can’t be to completely ignore what’s happening, but rather to enter into what’s happening wisely. Zach wrote a blog about stewarding your smartphone here. (To read this blog click here.)
Communication is Key
Adults need to be proactive in their conversations with kids when it comes to social media.
While there are clear guidelines for some of the boundaries with social media, (the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to two hours a day for children), other guidelines are vague. One of the most important things you can do as a parent, regardless of whether you allow your children to have social media or not, is to keep open communication about it. Whether they participate or not, they are seeing it and they are affected.
This new frontier has all of us scrambling for advice and information. No matter what information we use for our own parenting, the foundational place we should always land is the Bible. The Bible gives us wisdom for how we are to use all tools God has given us. From Scripture, we can glean a starting point on which to begin building our own boundaries on the good gifts God has provided.
- Friends influence you. 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’”
- Use communication to build others up. Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
- Encourage peace. Ephesians 4:1-3: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
- Be your true self. 2 Timothy 2:15: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
Out of these foundational truths, we can begin talking to one another and our children about social media. Many parents want to talk to their children about social media, they just don’t know where to start. We have compiled a list of great conversation starters to help your family discuss the proper usage of technology and social media. Access the free PDF below!
The digital age with smartphones, apps, and social media may be a brand-new frontier, but it is not a new concept. Discussing ideas, connecting with other humans, having heated debates, sharing our likes and dislikes, and sharing memories are all age-old practices. As parents figuring this out, let’s have grace for one another, but let’s also commit ourselves to being intentional with our children about how to use this technology for good in the present and future.
We can use new technology in a way that lifts one another up, creates space for new ideas and endeavors, shares hurt and heartache in a safe way, and work together for a common good.
There’s a whole new world that God has for us in Jesus. A kingdom we can be a part of now. I’ll take a Savior in Jesus over a Genie anyday.
So then, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you may do, do all for the honor and glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
We’d love to hear from you! What age, or factors, do you believe is appropriate for a child to own a smartphone? What are some other conversation starters you can have with your kids about their digital devices?