A growing number of parents are banding together to sign a no-phone pact.
Shelly Baldwin Gerson’s oldest child Sophie is just turning 7, but as soon as school starts this fall, the Seattle mom is planning to sign a pledge vowing not to buy Sophie a smart phone until she’s in 8th grade. “I worry a lot about the effects of screen time on child development,” says Gerson. “I don’t want it to distract my kids from more rewarding childhood pursuits, such as let’s-pretend, wandering in the woods and building forts with friends.”
Gerson is just one of more than 1,000 parents from 42 states who have joined the Wait Until 8th movement, which has spread quickly across social media since its creation just a few months ago by Brooke Shannon, a mom of three in Austin, TX. “When my oldest daughter Grace was going into kindergarten, it was mostly fifth graders who had smart phones,” Shannon explains. “But since then it has trickled down younger and younger, so now I see kindergarteners with iPhones! It’s so pervasive, I kids playing with them on the bus, before morning assembly, at Girl Scouts.”
Shannon read up on all the studies linking smartphones to a higher risk of cyber-bullying, problems with sleep and concentration, and even head lice, and knew she wanted to wait until her daughter was a teenager. But the problem is, how do you Just Say No when every other kid in the class has one?
“What happens is a handful of kids, maybe three or four, get them early and then it puts the pressure on families from the whole grade,” says Shannon. But then she had a brainstorm—“I said to a few of my friends, What if we create social pressure not to get a smart phone?”
And that’s how Wait Until 8th was born. The concept is simple: Get 10 families in your grade to agree to wait until their child is around 13 before giving in and getting a phone. With this core group sticking together and waiting it out, the hope is that there won’t be as much pressure for parents who aren’t eager to hook up their kids with phones to cave in.
Shannon makes it clear that every family is different, and she does not judge those who choose to get a phone earlier. She also differentiates smart phones from flip phones, which she acknowledges some young children need to coordinate pickups and drop-offs from different family members. “We’re just trying to create a support network for those who do want to wait, since you can feel really isolated if you go this on your own,” she says. “We can parent better when we do it together.”