The underlying problem that every parent faces when navigating when to give their child a smartphone or smart device is its inevitability. One day, our child will hold the portal to every ounce of human knowledge (the good, bad and the ugly) all tucked neatly away in their back pocket. The stakes are increased tremendously by the fact that the “bad” and the “ugly” sides of the web are monetized by algorithms and sent to hunt users down like powerless prey made slaves to their exploited fundamental human desires online. The game of parenting in the digital age is rigged by exploitive business models and legislation.
At Wired Human, we promote the Less, Later, Limits philosophy when it comes to kids interacting with smart devices.
Our kids are developing into adults and it’s the parents' job and legal right to equip their kids to face the world they were born into with resilience and wisdom. We tip our hats to every parent that has taken the necessary time to create external blockades to protect their children from harmful content and predators through filters, routers, monitoring services and more. However, this is only phase one. Shielding someone from harm only to lift the shield without training, experience and understanding is bound to end in disaster. I remember the friends that went bonkers in college usually came from strict homes that enforced rules without relationship. When the kids grew up, they had no idea how to self-regulate responsibly.
The external safeguards we place around our families must transcend into internal protection through empowerment and clear expectations. That is why we created 4 simple steps for parents to follow before handing a teenager their first smartphone. We call it the 4 R’s Model.
Each element of this model builds upon the next ensuring that a teen has the internal resilience, and willpower to handle a device with maturity and success.
The baseline of the pyramid is all about relational health and stewarding healthy relationships. A teen who is not exercising healthy relational skills with parents, siblings, friends and teachers is not ready for a smart device. If this foundation is not established first, nothing else we talk about in this blog post will work. Teens who have open and honest relationships with their parents, exercise conflict management skills, have a supportive role with siblings, are capable of fostering real life relationships with friends, and have a productive relationship with teachers or coaches are off to a great start. The vast majority of skills mastered through relational literacy, such as self-control, empathy, and kindness are critically important tools for navigating the online world safely, which is often void of these fundamental relational traits.
As we journey up the pyramid, consistently following through with real life responsibilities, like chores, homework and managing a schedule on their own is an important indicator that your teen is taking ownership over their personal success. This is an excellent indicator that they are capable of meeting clearly laid out expectations without being nagged or helicoptered. If your child is incapable of making their bed in the morning how can you expect them to turn down an enticing opportunity to engage in something harmful or dangerous online?
How does your teen manage themselves with technology that is publicly available in the home, like the family computer in the kitchen or self-regulating with video games? If you lay out clear parameters with technology (time limits or appropriate behavior online) in these open spaces and your teen is able to follow through without being told, this is a great sign that they have developed the necessary skills to begin learning how to manage the incredible power and responsibility associated with a smartphone.
Now we have arrived at the final level of the pyramid where the teen might be mature enough to have their first smartphone, respect. The discovery of fire was a pivotal moment of advancement for human kind. In the right context, at the right time with the proper understanding of its power, fire can be incredibly useful. However it was not long before humans also learned to burn their neighbors house down when provoked. Smartphones can be powerful tools, however in the wrong context and lack of respect for its power, these devices will be incredibly destructive. No one would leave a fire in a room by itself or a candle lit while we are gone at work. We know how dangerous it can be. This is a healthy respect we never grow out of, even when we are old and wise. The same goes for a smartphone or device.
Training our kids to have a deep respect for the true nature of technology and its power to create and destroy is sustainable parenting in the digital age and it sets our kids up for success for the long haul of life.
There are many great alternatives that allow us to wait on introducing smartphones.
If you have questions feel free to reach out to us anytime. We would love to support you on your parenting journey.