Parents can more effectively guide their children in the virtuous use of the Internet by collaborating with other parents and families that have similar values and aims for their home. These goals should include the virtuous use of electronic devices.
It is always good to have friends with children a bit older than your own. Keep abreast of what issues they have with their children. If they mention how hard it is to orient a 4th grader in regards to a school dance—they think 4th grade is too early for this—then tell your oldest (a 2nd grader): there may be a dance when you get to 4th grade, but you won’t be going because that’s our family rule. It won’t bother your 2nd grader a bit—it’s not on his/her radar—and when 4th grade comes around that child will already know the plan and won’t expect to go.
A similar approach can be taken with cell phones and other electronic devices. For example, if the school will give all 4th graders their own tablet for homework, you can say to your 2nd grader that he/she will get a tablet in 4th grade, but will only be able to use it for homework; after that it will go into the locked charging closet.
What is Age Appropriate?
You don’t give a 10 year-old child the keys to the car or the liquor cabinet and then say, “Just be responsible.” So as electronics are addictive and can be dangerous if not used responsibly, parents should ask: How much should a child play with a phone or tablet? At what age should a child get his own device? What controls should I have?
Mayo Clinic found children using the Internet leads to increase childhood obesity, sleep disorders, behavior problems, delays in language and social development, violence, attention problems, learning difficulties (see https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/screen-time/art-20047952).
Dr. Kimberly Young was a pioneer in the field of Internet addiction, founding the Center for Internet Addiction in 1995 (sadly, Dr. Young died in 2019 of cancer). She had a positive view of technology, seeing it as a necessity of life like food, yet it can be highly addictive, especially in children as young as three years old (See her TedTalk: http://netaddiction.com).
Her guidelines for Internet use by children are:
- Birth – 3 years: Never
- 3 – 6 years: One hour a day and always supervised
- 6 – 9 years: Two hours a day and supervised
- 9 – 12 years: Two hours a day/some independence on social media
- 12 – 18 years: Independence with a digital diet plan of digital nutrition of how much and of what type of Internet (school work, social media, gaming, etc.)
What should you do when a child asks to get his/her own cell phone? Have a conversation! Ask: Why do you wants a cellphone? What will you do with it? Remind the child that the parent is responsible for what the child does with it. When will that child give the phone back to mom or dad: when he/she comes home, or before dinner, etc.? Where is it off-limits to use the phone (bedroom, bathroom, etc.)? What is permitted and not permitted on the phone? How should that phone be monitored for proper use?
As you weigh you decision when is the right time, engage other parents. Form a group of friends and school parents—Wait Until 8th (https://www.waituntil8th.org) is a network of parents who believe that children should wait until 8th grade to get their first smartphone. When you do chose to give a child a phone, make sure it is configured so that you know what apps are used and other limitations so as to guarantee proper use (see https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/parents-ultimate-guide-to-parental-controls). Some parents write out a contract (see https://www.commonsensemedia.org/family-media-agreement).
Fr. John Waiss