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Wait Until 8th—A Pledge To Delay Smartphone Usage In Kids

Written by Sara Langer

Photography by Amy Abrams, Photographed by Heather Moore

Today, the average age a child receives their first smartphone is 10 years old. One study shows children under 9 may be spending up to two hours in front of screens each day, while another study claims that children between the ages of 8 and 12 are spending up to six hours with screens (not including schoolwork). The numbers of hours with screens grows with age, not surprisingly. Teens may be spending over eight hours a day engaged in media, and most of this time is unsupervised. There is plenty of research that shows the drawbacks of children using smartphones. They’re an academic distraction, impair sleep, affect relationships, and increase anxiety and depression. Not to mention, all of the other opportunities and experiences children may be missing because they are engrossed in their phone. But many parents feel as though they are fighting an uphill battle in today’s digital world. Technology did not exist in the same way when we were children, and with this rapid evolution, it’s hard to find an example of how to address these issues with your children. Cue Wait Until 8th: a pledge parents and families can make to delay the use of smartphones for their children until at least 8th grade. Taking the pledge helps parents come together and create a community around this issue, with the hopes of extending childhood for their kids. 

Brooke Shannon, the founder of the Wait Until 8th pledge, is an Austin-based mom of three. Recently, she began to notice more and more young people with their eyes glued to their phones. She feared the distraction that comes with smartphones, which studies show can be addicting, was taking away from the experience of childhood. After discussing the topic with many other parents, Shannon wanted to take the initiative to make a change and the Wait Until 8th pledge was born. Now, almost a year later, the pledge is active in all 50 states with more than 10,000 parents participating. Shannon hopes to one day have one million families join the movement, eventually raising the average age a child receives their first smartphone. And simply, she hopes to help other families, like her own, create healthy boundaries for technology, that still allows children to experience childhood without the distraction of smartphones. We had the chance to chat with the busy mom of three young girls to learn a little bit more about the movement.

How did the pledge come to life?
“I was driving by our local middle school and all of the kids were getting out and no one was talking to one another or engaging with each other. It just made me sad as a mom and it made me wonder, how as parents can we live differently or is this just the inevitable end that we’re going to land at once our children are a certain age? I went ahead and emailed a group of 15 or 20 parents from my daughter’s schools to get their thoughts and ask, how can we delay the use of smartphones for our children? It started a whole community dialogue around this topic. Many parents expressed they wanted to wait, yet they heard from parents of older children that at a certain point it becomes really hard to do. It only takes a couple of children in the class with the newest smartphones for children to feel like everyone has one and the peer pressure can be difficult to combat. There was a lot of interest from other parents and we thought banding together could help.”

Why 8th grade?
“Once there was some momentum around this, I began to do some research to determine how long we should wait. What we found across the board, from child psychologists to pediatricians, and even technology executives themselves, they all recommend waiting until about 14 to 16 years old until introducing this technology. In our local community, we were starting to see smartphones as young as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade. We knew we definitely wanted to keep them out of elementary school and most of middle school. Some parents wanted to wait longer, but we really wanted to find some sort of feasible ‘line in the sand’ that the community could get around. The main goal is to at least delay smartphone usage past the 10-year mark and give them a few more years of childhood. It started as a movement in our local school, then the district, and all of Austin. Within a matter of weeks we were in 14 states and now a year later, we are in every state with about 10,000 families joining the movement. This movement is really resonating with parents as they are fumbling around trying to figure out what to do in this digital world we are parenting in.”

Do the school administrations support the movement?
“This is a parent-led initiative. If you want to start at your school all you need to do is go to WaitUntil8th.org and sign the pledge. You will get tips, tools, and resources from us that you can share with your community. From there, it spreads by word of mouth, as you connect with other parents that want to join. There are some school districts across the country that have reached out to us, asking for information and materials to share with parents, with a desire to be proactive around this issue and start a dialogue with parents. But that’s definitely not all districts or school leadership. In some cases, parents are actually fighting the schools, because some of the schools have embraced technology, almost to a fault. In many schools, kids are spending hours a day on tablets and computers, and many are even allowing smartphones in the classroom. That goes against all research, which says when you have phones classroom grades go down and cyberbullying goes up. There is really no reason phones should be in the classroom, but the schools have embraced them. The beauty of the movement is that it’s completely parent-led, you do not need the stamp of approval from the school administration. Simply sign the pledge and gather a group of like-minded families to join the movement.”

In an effort to lead by example, what advice do you have for parents in order to decrease smartphone usage around their children?
“On our blog, we recently published a post with tips to help decrease screen time and technology usage at home. One of those ideas is to always carry a book with you, not just for your children, but also for yourself. What has happened as a culture, any time we have a down moment, waiting for something, it’s second nature to pick up your smartphone, check your email or Instagram. It’s setting the example for our children that it’s ok to be on your smartphone all the time or whenever you have a minute. If you have always have a book with you, your default won’t be to go straight to your phone. If you can read for a few moments, your child will see that and that will set an example for them to do the same. If you can build time into your day that is device-free, especially when you’re with your children, that will set the best example for them to follow. None of us benefit from the unfettered access to technology. We all need to be unplugged and have downtime from smartphones. It really is the best thing for the mind, body, and soul. There is so much research and science behind the benefits of being bored. It leads to creativity, problem-solving, and using your imagination.”

The pledge is specific to smartphones, but a flip phone or another basic phone is ok?
“Every major carrier makes a basic phone that just calls and texts without a data plan if you believe your child will need to get in touch with you before 8th grade. The Wait Until 8th pledge is encouraging parents to delay the smartphone. If you would like your child to have a basic phone that just calls and texts or a two-way calling watch, you can still sign the pledge! The basic phone and two-way calling watch avoid many of the distractions and dangers of the smartphone. Check out our blog, to see our post about changing your old smartphone to a plain old phone.”

To hear more on Wait Until 8th or to sign the pledge, click here. For more articles on this topic, check out our Mother pieces on Cyberbullying in Schools, 13 Teen Girls On The Impact Of Social Media, Screenagers: A Must-Watch Doc Exploring Teens & Screen Time, and 10 Moms On Their Screen Time Rules And Realities.

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