We bit the bullet, as they say, and decided to give our eleven-year-old daughter Mia an iPhone for Christmas.
It was not an easy decision.
Anyone who knows me will tell you I struggled for months, and went back and forth, about whether or not a phone was in her best interest (or ours). Of course she really wanted one...all (okay, 99% )of her friends already have one. She crafted and shared with us a letter that included several ways a phone would help her. In addition, Mia outlined the extra chores she would do to earn the phone, and she set up rules she'd have to follow everday...just like the guinea pigs of three Christmases ago, my daughter developed and executed a campaign for months before the holidays about getting an iPhone.
This is my fifth child, my only daughter, the baby of the family, and the fourth of my kids to experience phone privileges. My oldest (closing in on thirty) got one (flip-style) when he was sixteen and his dad gave him a car...didn't agree with either gift, but in retrospect, it was helpful that he had both. Son #2 got one at fifteen (flip again) when we actually felt bad because he had to use his friend's phones so often to call us after tennis practice was done. Really felt like it wasn't fair to his teammates so, we got him the phone. Son #3 got his when he went to high school for much the same reason, he needed to communicate about practice and it made sense. Son #4 is in eighth grade, has no phone and doesn't want one at this point.
But it's a much different story with our daughter because it's not a flip-phone she wants. (Do they even make those anymore?) Mia is all about social media and connecting with her friends. Which, of course...because of the amount of information I read about teens and social media use, scares the s#$% out of me. And, I will be brutally honest, another reason I was kind of digging my heals in the ground was because I didn't appreciate feeling backed into a corner by all of her friend's parents who gave their kids phones before middle school began. [I admit I felt victimized for no legitimate reason.]
Yes, every family has it's reasons and it is a personal decision. There is no question some families really do need the phone and text in order to be in contact with one another...I totally get it. But, that isn't the case with our family.
And it isn't phone calling or texting I had concerns about.
During our journey to make an informed decision about when a phone for Mia was in order, I fully acknowledged my fears.
1. my daughter will see something wildly risque that she can't unsee...
2. a stranger with bad intentions will reach out and attempt (or succeed) to connect with my child (or, one of her classmates may attempt to blackmail her into a semi-nude photo)...
3. (though this really should be #1) we are actively perpetuating a world where kids aren't able to develop or hold relationships in any kind of meaningful manner
4. my daughter's sense of self worth could increasingly become reliant on the number of "likes" she receives for a picture she takes and posts...and, what might Mia be tempted to post in order to get even more approval by her peers?
These are all very real fears, based past experience, on articles I've read, a documentary I have seen, and on conversations I have had with multiple parents.
But this wasn't about any of those things as much as it was about the relationship we have with our daughter...and, my final fear was that if we waited until I was ready, there would be resentment built up and the potential for temptation and sneakiness on her part was something I very much wanted to avoid.
Essentially, the decision about the phone came down to a choice between living in fear, or living in connection.
I know how important it is to stay present in my relationships. And right now I have very open communication with my daughter. Mia, Tom and I sat down together and talked through every aspect of phone use, responsibility, and our anxiety around social media. Together we set agreed upon safeguards in place. Most importantly, I know for us the conversation will be on-going.
That's what it means to consciously parent our kids. It means mindfully walking the tight-rope between giving them autonomy and knowing when to step in and help them see potential consequences to their choices, it means giving them options while building in guiding parameters, and (especially) modeling for them the importance of staying connected to the very real (sometimes scary) world we live in today.
Helping my daughter balance screen time and other non-tech activities, as well as face-to-face experiences, will keep me accountable to the same.
While in the process of making the decision, I was introduced to a woman whose entire mission is helping parents and their kids, as well as educators and their students, create kindness online and open dialogue with one another about screen practices. Her site is SO full of great information and online programming I want to share it with you, because any way we can help one another navigate parenting in the digital age is a wonderful thing! My friend Galit Breen's website is called These Little Waves.
So, to answer the leading question about how to know when your child is ready for an iPhone...
1. Is there a need for your child to have a way to communicate? Are they asking for a phone? If so, how are they demonstrating taking on responsibility in other areas of their life? (School work, communicating with you about their plans, extracurricular commitments...) What needs to improve before you would feel your child is ready?
2. What fears or concerns do you have around the responsibility of your child having a phone and social media? Are you able to sit down and talk about these concerns openly with your child? How well have you communicated and worked with one another in the past on other privileges?
3. What are the safeguards you would put in place if he/she gets a phone? (If you need help here, go to Galit's site). Who will pay for the service and how will that be done? Whose responsibility would it be if the phone were misplaced or broken?
You know your child best. For Tom and I, we took into consideration the health of our parent/child relationship in relation to giving her something we know she'll need to practice and grow into, with our guidance. We also know she enjoys having friends over and they spend time away from their phones crafting and talking. Mia is also a huge reader who loves BOOKS (just like her mom). At this point I see the phone as helping the three of us build a circle of trust as Mia continues to move into adolescence.
Will there be challenges? No doubt. But with open communication, and awareness on our part, it will be a positive addition to our family life.