Why suburban parents are pledging to 'Wait Until 8th' on smartphones
Steve Douglass' 8- and 10-year-old boys wanted smartphones for Christmas, but they didn't get them.
It's not because Douglass can't afford them. It's because the Lake Bluff father is one of a growing number of parents who signed a "Wait Until 8th" pledge, vowing not to give their children smartphones until at least eighth grade.
As of December, nearly 300 Illinois parents have signed the pledge -- including some from suburban schools like Windsor Elementary School in Arlington Heights and Kingsley Elementary School in Naperville -- joining more than 6,000 nationwide.
"There's power in doing it together," says Lake Zurich resident Rachel Kamin, a mother of two who also signed. "We don't have to roll over and say, 'This is the world we live in and there's nothing we can do about it.'"
The pledge doesn't ban simple cellphones, but smartphones with internet, cameras and social media apps.
Brooke Shannon, who founded "Wait" in March, said parents feel pressured to buy phones for their children, sometimes as early as first grade, because "everyone else has them." It's how kids communicate with each other, and parents don't want their child to be left out.
Shannon says studies show smartphones can harm a child's development.
Not only do they expose children to sexual and violent content, but phones are addictive. They can impair sleep, contribute to anxiety, depression and cyberbullying, and take away time from playing, reading and talking with friends.
Parents who give young children smartphones argue they are safety devices, and promote convenient communication when kids need rides. Kamin, however, believes they hinder children from developing problem-solving and self-sufficiency skills, like if they're locked out of the house or their bike gets a flat tire.
One school day, her 11-year-old son found out he made the cut for the Lake Zurich Middle School North basketball team and had to stay after school for the next round of tryouts.
He sent his mom an email on his school-issued iPad.
He also could have called her from the phone in the school office or library, which he did once when he missed the bus.
"I want them to have the skills so their first response isn't 'call Mom.'" she said. "They don't know how to ask people for help if they always have this device on them."
Additionally, a phone robs children the chance to be bored, or lost in their own thoughts, when they're sitting in the car, or at the doctor's office, or going to bed. She saw a photo on social media of a school dance's after-party, where the kids all sat in a room together, staring at their phones.
Cynthia Gamboa, a youth program coordinator who gives cyberbullying presentations in suburban schools, counters the Wait Unit 8th movement, saying the real issue is that too many parents don't monitor their child's internet usage, understand how some apps work, or establish firm boundaries.
She said even kids without a smartphone probably have tablets or computers at home with internet access.
"At the end of the day, it's how involved are the parents going to be?" said Gamboa, of Aurora. "There are other resources (to protect your child) than going all-in and not having a phone.
"(But) If they do have a smartphone, they need to set rules with consequences and be firm in enforcing them."
So when is the right age to give a child a smartphone? Child psychologist and tech executives cited on the Wait Until 8th website seem to agree it's best to wait until at least age 14.
But it really depends on the child, and the family.
Supporters of Wait Until 8th hope the growing campaign will make it a little easier to delay the inevitable -- or at least cause parents stop and think about the impact smartphones are having on their child.
"Eventually, they will have to have one. It is the world we live in," Kamin said.
"But first, I want them to try to figure the world out without it," she added. "I'd like to delay giving them that crutch as long as possible."