Maybe your child came home from the first day of 6th grade saying that everyone else has a phone, or your fourth grader had a sleep-over and claims that all of the other kids have better gaming systems, or your seventh grader is the last one not posting on Tik Tok. Is the “everyone else” factor ever important to consider? What if the “everyone else” factor is all about waiting until a certain age for access and your independent and responsible kid is ready now?
Our son has been asking for a new gaming device for a while and we are in discernment. We are letting him save up his allowance, but there are certain things we might not allow him to buy, even with his own money.
Does “Everyone Else” Really Have one?
In our case, we know our son is correct about “everyone else” because we checked. A quick survey of his friends and their parents verified his contention that he has the oldest system in the bunch. He acknowledges that his system is still fun and that there are good games available on it that he enjoys.
So how important is it to “keep up” with neighbors and classmates in the ever-changing world of technology? Another parent in our community recently sent a group text verifying an “everyone else” contention about bedtime. In elementary school, this isn’t too embarrassing, but I’d caution parents about sending a similar group text if your child is older! There are ways of getting this information that will still inform your thinking, however.
In our case, we felt that our current gaming system is good enough for now, but that we are OK with him saving his allowance for a newer system. We reminded him that we have final veto power over the new system, but that we are open to at least some of the options he is interested in. We also reminded him of the advantages of the older system…games are available in his price range at Goodwill! We are excited to see him saving towards a larger goal. We also followed Ron Lieber’s advice in the Opposite of Spoiled not to fib and say we “can’t afford” a newer system. We were honest with our son that it just isn’t a priority for us, but we understand that it is for him. Therefore, we’ll help him identify some extra paid jobs above and beyond his typical obligations to allow him to work towards his goal.
Rather than simply a yes or no on the device itself, you will want to consider the impact on your lives:
- Where in your space will it live? Is it the first thing your child will see when she comes home? Is it near spaces where other children need to complete homework or nap?
- If it is a mobile device (tablet, laptop, phone, music device, handheld gaming) Will it be allowed in their bedroom at all? Overnight?
- How much external access will you allow…playing with friends? playing with strangers?
- How compelling and frustrating are the games (will you be likely to see big reactions/meltdowns?)
- For new social apps: How well is your child doing with current social experiences/interactions. If texting has been a rough-go, it might be good to hold off on adding Snapchat, for example. Here is an article I wrote listing some signs your child is not ready for a phone.
What about social isolation? Are there times where forbidding something does truly isolate your child?
Having some knowledge of the contemporary culture that is important to kids can help kids with conversation topics. My parents got their books and records from the library and I didn’t know a lot about the mass culture around me. I survived, but I was definitely left out of a lot of conversations. That doesn’t mean you have to jump on the bandwagon with every popular game (Fortnite!) or TV show, etc. Maybe it does mean letting your child know enough about a certain topic to participate in an event or talk to peers at lunch.
As much as possible, find out what they really want the device or app or game *for.* What do they want to do? If your child wants Tik Tok because they love popular music and dancing, would a dance class with a performance at the end or an impromptu dance party scratch the itch? You can always dive in together, giving you a chance to learn the app too, and mentor along the way. I enjoyed this recent NY Times article about Moms on Tik Tok.
But do I need to get my kids what everyone else has?
There are very few *musts* in this world, as so much depends on what is right for your family. Kids who are struggling with social boundaries or over disclosing may benefit from a later initiation to social media. One app is certainly easier to mentor than five.
There are no hard and fast rules for what kids “need” by a certain age. If the school needs them to have email, then they should provide it and (hopefully) mentor….but I’d reinforce appropriate use at home. In some communities and social groups, social media can also feel “essential” and in others, it is less important.
The one skill that almost all kids will need is texting. Kids will need to text by high school or 8th grade in order to socialize independently and make plans. Many kids are texting far younger, and with good mentoring, this can work for some families! but it is fair to say a 9-year-old or 11 year old making social plans via parents is at less of a social disadvantage than a 14-year-old. Further, by high school, a fair number of teachers and coaches will use apps like Remind to text students with updates.
Texting is a crucial skill that almost all kids will need to learn. And yes, there will be stumbles. I’ve written about When Texting Goes Wrong and what to do when they have a conflict with a friend that plays out over text messages. Teaching our kids to text and how to repair mistakes will set them up to handle their own social lives in a world where texting is essential and ubiquitous. We often get so focused on social media that we forget to teach this basic skill.
There is no question that dealing with “everyone else” can be a challenge, but you can use these conversations to talk about the unique things your family values and enjoys. For us, the conversation about the gaming system was a great chance to observe that we appreciate our child’s growing independence and we’re ready to support that, but that there are other family priorities like traveling and our next home that are very important, too.