Smart phones can open up the world for a child. They allow the child to access the Internet anywhere, they allow the child to play all sorts of games. In many ways this is amazing, fun, educational and deeply interesting (even more than a little addictive) for children.
Research shows us that kids are getting online earlier and earlier. Ofcom statistics tell us that 15% of 3-4 year olds now own their own tablet and many more will have access to one. And it’s not a surprise that 76% of 12-15 year olds now have their own social networking profile.
Children and young people obviously go online for a variety of reasons – just like us. They want to connect with their friends, make new friends and see what people are doing and wearing. They browse the Internet for information, help with homework, things to make them laugh and things that will shock them. They go to the Internet for everything! (And to be honest, so do we, as adults)
Here me now. I am not against the Internet. I am not some Luddite wanting to strip the world of all technology. I am not anti all social networking either – although I do choose not to be part of Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter for various reasons I won’t go into here. But Jon uses most of those without issue.
I LOVE the Internet for all sorts of reasons. I love being able to look up any passage in the Bible at the click of a button. I love finding that Oreo cake recipe I saw on a food programme 3 years ago! I love apps that help me keep fit, teach my daughter times tables and help me keep in touch with family. I am a big Internet fan. But I know how to use it.
I want my children to be savvy with the Internet. I want them know all about every site, and every app that will help them. I even want them to know about the ones that won’t… But what I MOST want is that they will explore those things WITH ME, not with their friends.
I don’t want them to accidentally access something that will change their lives, their eyes and their hearts forever. I know people that has happened to. I don’t want that for my children.
You cannot Un-see an image once you have seen it. You cannot be un-abused once someone has groomed you. But you can protect yourself and others from seeing and experiencing these life-wrecking kinds of content.
I sometimes feel sorry for our own children! We treat them in a way that makes them really stand out at school. And I know that they can find this hard – although they regularly thank us too. Our 11-year -old twins are the only children in their class without a tablet of some kind. Our daughter is the only 7 year old in her class without her own tablet/screen too. But they have as much Internet access at home as they need. They know how to use a laptop and a Kindle and an ipad. They now have a Nintendo Switch too. So they aren’t lacking healthy amounts of new technology at home.
We had been planning to get the twins an iphone around their 11th birthday, partly because this is what we had given our eldest. (He inherited an old one of Jon’s, two years ago.) And partly because of the ‘find my iphone’ function that would enable us to see where they were!
But, I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable and concerned about general phone use amongst children and young people. When I prayed for my children and the ones I work with, I had no peace whatsoever about them having smart phones. I had a hard conversation with Jon about this. And he agreed with me.
I think for us (and I really mean this. I am in NO way judging anyone else for their phone-giving or tablet-giving to their kids. This is OUR decision for OUR children at THIS time) it has been right not to give our children smart phones.
We even made the very hard decision to remove the iphone from our eldest. I was absolutely dreading this conversation. I didn’t want him to see it as some kind of punishment. He has been pretty good with his phone. He has never (to my knowedge) accessed any images that I wouldn’t approve of for him… but it was getting increasingly difficult for him to manage his WhatsApp account for example. He would often turn on his phone in the morning to find over 1000 messages on it. No-one needs that when they are trying to get ready for school!
He was also struggling not to play games on it a lot. This was beginning to affect our relationship, as he was hiding his phone and using it when we weren’t looking. It was beginning to cause arguments. And those are not very common with him in our home.
When we told him we were taking his phone away and buying him a ‘non-smart’ one, he was totally amazing about it. He agreed that he needed some time without a smart phone and that he didn’t mind not having access to the Internet when he walked to school. (His school do not allow ANY phone use on the premises.) I am sure it will be hard for him when certain friends laugh at his phone. But he is old enough to take it and banter back.
So you might be asking yourself why we have made this decision in the first place.
Let me tell you:
- Social networking – I don’t believe that it is helpful for my children to have to brand themselves from an early age. They are not a product that needs to be bought and sold. They are people. I am keen for them to make genuine friendships that are not influenced by the kinds of selfies they take and by what technology they own.
- Access – The smart phone enables access to all sorts of content. Some of this is amazing and some of it utterly terrifying. I didn’t think that my children were yet mature enough to filter all of the bad stuff out. I want more time to teach them those skills. I want them to discern when something feels wrong, intrusive, unhelpful or odd. By buying them a RUBBISH phone we have bought ourselves more time to do this carefully and methodically TOGETHER in a controlled and safe way as a family unit.
- Money – Owning a smart phone is a massive investment. We have 4 kids. Whatever we do for one, we need to do for all – monthly. Just the amount we would need to spend on this was mind-boggling.
- Sleep patterns. There is a growing amount of research to suggest that phone and tablet use really harms our kid’s sleep patterns. Blue light emitted from screens damages the Melatonin hormone in our brains which is responsible for making us feel sleepy. 100% of the children I see as part of my secondary school job have problems with sleep as a direct result of over-use of tablets and phones.
- Bullying – I am seeing a huge rise in the amount of online and cyber bullying at school. Sexting and texting rude, illicit, unwise, unkind words is on the rise in society. Trolling is common on all apps and sites. I don’t want my kids exposed to this until they can use tools to block users or report site abuse.
- Pornography – Years ago a child I was teaching was trying to access the Cbeebies website at school. This was way before the rise of Internet safety devices. She accidentally typed in “SEE BOOBIES.” Lets just say it did not go well for her…. and she very much did! There is a growing amount of child porn on the internet and a wide ranging targeted amount of predatory attack on children’s sites by those trying to hack and access pictures from others. There are also pop-ups inviting you to view naked photos. The porn sites know that if you access these once, your appetite will be awakened. I know more than I need to about Pornography. I know how addicitive it is and how quickly it can suck people in. I have just written a book about Breaking Habits that contains a section about a girl who googled the word ‘Masturbation’ and was sucked into a world of online porn useage for years and years. I don’t want this for my children. I want them to know it is out there and how to turn away from it.
I will tell you more about what we are putting in place for the kids in the coming days ,but for now: to find out more about the most popular social networks, sites and apps children are using, go to net-aware.org.uk. It covers 50 of the most-used sites and has links to information about how to remove content on different apps how to block people and report site abuse.
Why don’t our kids have smart phones? See above.