#cyberbullying | #cyberbully | Parents’ Major Hang-Up: Kids on Smartphones

In a crusade against the dark side of technology, thousands of parents in the New York area have pledged mutual support in just saying no to smartphones for their children until at least eighth grade.

More than 21,000 families nationwide have promised to “Wait Until 8th,” including more than 3,000 in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, according to the campaign. Parents at private schools such as Chapin, Spence and Avenues are among the most active in New York City.

Mandisa Turner, who has two girls at Chapin, said about a dozen families in her older daughter’s sixth-grade class had signed the pledge. She wishes more would do so. Schools often spread the word about the project but parents are the driving force.

Ms. Turner gives her girls a device like a walkie-talkie in case they need her. They aren’t allowed on social media, can use laptops for homework only in the kitchen, and got a television just recently for limited use.

“Many parents said they eventually caved on the smartphone because ‘everyone had them’. Out of this dialogue came the idea to rally together as a community by starting a pledge.”

—Brooke Shannon, executive director of Wait Until 8th

They “are in the process of learning how to manage their time, study and determine what activities they want to give a lot of energy to,” Ms. Turner said. Cellphones “are an unnecessary distraction.”

Parents have long felt torn on this issue. While many worry putting smartphones in immature hands can lead to cyberbullying, inappropriate texting and wasted hours on YouTube and game apps, they also fear that forbidding the devices increases their allure. Some argue it is wiser to teach responsible use and healthy time management than ban temptations.

Smartphone ownership has risen dramatically among children. About 53% have their own smartphone by age 11, and 69% have one by age 12, according to a new national survey by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that gives parents advice on navigating the digital world. Now 84% of teens aged 13 to 18 have smartphones, up from 67% four years ago.

Gavin McCormick, a Brooklyn father, said his 12-year-old daughter got a smartphone in September when she started seventh grade and had to take complicated subway routes to school. He had thought about giving her a basic phone, but her stepsister, a ninth-grader, had a smartphone, and he felt it seemed more reasonable for them both to have the same tools, with restrictions on use.

So far, he said, things have gone smoothly. “This feels like a natural part of 21st-century American parenting,” he said. “I don’t know that there is a right answer. It really does depend on each child.”

The Wait Until 8th movement began about two years ago in Austin, Texas, where several elementary-school parents felt there was too much pressure to give children smartphones so they wouldn’t feel left out socially.

“Many parents said they eventually caved on the smartphone because ‘everyone had them’,” the organization’s executive director, Brooke Shannon, said in an email. “Out of this dialogue came the idea to rally together as a community by starting a pledge.”

Parents can still sign on if they give their children a basic phone that simply calls and texts, so they can communicate easily on the way to school or during emergencies. The goal is to avoid the dangers of the internet and social media. Some critics of such pacts say they shame parents who don’t join.

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Wait Until 8th lists a school as active if at least 10 families in a grade sign on. It says parents in public and private schools in all 50 states have done so.

Amy Aversa, a Manhattan mother of 9-year-old twins in fifth-grade, wishes she knew about the campaign. She said she gave her kids their own smartphones six months ago when she got a new one for herself and was offered another for free. “I regret it; they’re both addicted,” she said. “It’s like crack.”

Heather Tait, another Manhattan parent, has her own rules for her 11-year-old, who has only a basic flip phone. When her 13-year-old got a smartphone recently, he had to sign a contract she adapted from a parenting blog.  Among its 15 rules: He must generally hand his phone to an adult from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., he can’t use it to express anything he wouldn’t say out loud with parents in the room, and his parents must know his password.

“There is no need to document everything,” the contract says. “Live your experiences.”

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