I’ve reached that point that I have been dreading. My husband and I don’t dislike technology, we know it’s important, but we do dislike the effect personal devices have had on society in general. Society now is more quick to judge, jump to conclusions, be less critical thinkers, proffer our opinion on topics we probably shouldn’t, require instant responses, provide an excess of ‘white-noise’ in our lives which has impacted upon all of us.
In a world where seemingly every high school child has a phone, it seemed inevitable that we were going to have to supply our soon-to-be Year 7 child with a phone after being told that “everyone” has one.
Next year, he will most likely be riding to school which is around a kilometre or so from our home, he’ll only have to cross one minor road to get there. So his time away from available contact methods will be limited, but of course, he may elect to go to a friends house before coming home.
Not wanting our child to be ‘that’ child, or for him to be ostracised and possibly even bullied as he heads into a new and exciting chapter in his life, I started to look for “kid smart phones” that allow us to have some level of control, or something that will keep him “safe” whilst we are not with him. The options available, whilst better than a hand-me-down phone, were still not sitting right with me and my procrastination has given me time and confidence to make the decision that whether he’s the only child in year 7 in this situation or not, he won’t have a phone.
As happens with this time of year, I have attended Christmas functions and end of year gatherings, spoken with a lot of people and reconnected with friends we generally don’t have time to see during the year. In these discussions, the usual commentary of “wow, where has the time gone?”, or “I can’t believe he’s in high school next year” is abundant. This leads to discussions on what we are going to do and how we manage our child’s rapidly evolving independence.
Surprisingly, when I’ve mentioned that I want him to be able to contact us, but don’t want him to have a phone to do so because of all the other issues that come with a phone, everyone has been supportive. Friends who have had children go through this stage already and given them a phone wish they hadn’t, a friend who is a high school teacher with younger children than mine has said there is no way her boys will have a phone in high school. Her school has banned phones completely after trialling a ten-minute phone allowance during break times as it caused more problems than a total phone ban. She was even enraged enough about the topic to say that as parents who are about to navigate this issue, we need to learn from parents before us and take a stand in saying no to just blindly giving our children phones, and she’s completely correct. Change starts with us and those brave enough to buck the trends and status quo.
I also recently made a post in a professional group I am part of as to possible suggestions to the contact problem and if I stuck to my guns about no phone, what impact might that have on him. The responses varied, some said that they know of children with no phones who miss out on social gatherings that are usually arranged through group chats. Ok, if that’s the worst that’s going to happen, then that’s actually not too bad when comparing the worst that could happen if he is part of these group chats, or has unfettered and unfiltered access to the web and its insidious apps before he is mature enough to understand and handle the content.
To be fair on him, he does still have a device that he can use at home so he’s not going to be totally in the dark, but his access to electronic communication is going to be minimised and in a controlled environment where we are available to him if things go awry or to provide that constant education that he’s going to need to become a good digital citizen.
So, what does my son think about this? He’s always known a phone is not a guarantee, so we haven’t ripped the rug from under him, he knows he’s not going to be totally isolated. He’s had the benefit of listening to me preparing my talks for Safe on Social, and knows what we present to students in schools, so he has a heads up on how dangerous some of these apps can be, and how intrusive and addictive a device can be. Luckily he’s pretty sensible, but he also understands we’re looking out for his safety and for now at least, he’s ok with that.
So, before you wrap that device to place under the Christmas tree for your soon-to-be high schooler, or any other child this year, please consider what you are setting your child up for and whether there are any other, more practical ways, that benefit both your families and your children. Think about whether you can be part of that change and trend back to our kids being kids.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, ANDREA TURNER
SPECIALIST FACILITATOR CYBER SAFETY WITH SAFE ON SOCIAL
Andrea is a lawyer with a background and interest in personal injury and employment law. After observing a significant increase in workplace psychological injuries over the years and correlating this increase with the rise in popularity of social media and electronic communications, Andrea has spent time focusing on educating both employers and employees in remaining safe both in and out of the workplace, and advocating for a change to more kinder workplace cultures.
Knowing what types of environments our children are likely to be exposed to, Andrea seeks to empower our young people and educate them on the impact that social media and technology can have on them not just now, but also into the future, and seeks to ensure that students, parents and educators know how to use technology safely and not to be afraid to call out poor behaviours.
Being a mum to two young boys has also strengthened Andrea’s resolve to make the world a kinder place to be.
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