Getting a cell phone has become something of a childhood rite of passage. Parents often struggle with how soon is too soon, with the average child now receiving their first phone at age 10 and their first social media accounts by age 12.
But leaders in the technology industry are pushing back against this new norm by keeping phones out of their own kids’ hands until their teenage years.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates was among the first to reveal that each of his three children weren’t allowed to have a phone until they turned 14 years old — and he’s not the only one.
James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, has also said that his children only get a cell phone once they reach high school—and only after they’ve shown they have restraint and that they value face-to-face communication.
“On the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine,” Mr. Anderson said of screens.
Technologists building these products and writers observing the tech revolution were naïve, he said.
“We thought we could control it,” Mr. Anderson said. “And this is beyond our power to control. This is going straight to the pleasure centres of the developing brain. This is beyond our capacity as regular parents to understand.”
The struggle between a parent who wants to delay and a child who swears all of his friends are getting phones is real. They want to fit in and connect with their friends; we want to prevent them becoming addicted to their phones or getting bullied on social media or being exposed to who-knows-what on apps that seem harmless on the surface but aren’t.
As kids get older and become more independent, by walking home from school or attending after-school activities on their own, giving them a cell phone can start to feel like the right decision both from a safety and a convenience standpoint.
But Athena Chavarria, who worked as an executive assistant at Facebook, has a different view: She lives by the mantra that the last child in the class to get a phone wins.
“Other parents are like, ‘Aren’t you worried you don’t know where your kids are when you can’t find them?’” Ms. Chavarria said. “And I’m like, ‘No, I do not need to know where my kids are every second of the day.’”
Of course, it’s hard to be the teenager with no phone when all (or at least the vast majority) of your friends have one, and when that is how they all make plans and stay in touch over school breaks. For those kids, writer Anastasia Basil, who wrote the viral piece “Porn Is Not the Worst Thing on Musical.ly,” offers up this solution:
Maybe if Bill and Melinda are listening they’ll do something to change the landscape of American childhood. (Melinda has written about this topic as a worried mother.) Maybe she and Bill can offer an incentive.
How about this: If a kid stays off ALL social media — no Snap, no Instagram, no Musical.y, no KiK and so on — until they are 16-years-old, the Gates Foundation will cut that kid a $2,172 check on their 16th birthday. The kid can use the money any way the kid wants — no forced college savings. Shopping spree! Car down payment! Concert tickets!
Here’s a DIY-version: If you begin to sock away $31 each month when your kid is 10, you’ll have $2,172 to hand over for a tough job well done — plus $76 bucks to spend on wine and salted snacks for your middle-aged self. Pretty good deal.
Plus, when one of your kid’s friends is all: OMG! You’re not on Instagram! Your kid can save face and be like: Yeah, dude, and I’m getting paid for it, too.