The school year has started and I’ve noticed that a number of kids in my daughter’s Grade 3 class have come to school with smartphones. This is a Waldorf School where we shun technology, preferring carpentry and shoemaking classes to programming and video-making. Still, the parents give in. Us parents work hard to give their children a wholesome environment, against the odds. Because my kids see me too on the cellphone sometimes all hours of the day, it is natural they will want one. Other parents are worried that their kids will get lost and God forbid have no way to find their way home. That’s why they give in. Israel does have a certain danger to it, we tell ourselves.
Some parents of religious kids and anthroposophy-educated kids go for the old Nokia handset, where the most a child can do is text messages to friends – no Internet, no WhatsApp groups, no Facebook. It does sometimes feel like culture deprivation, and my girl is begging for a smartphone for her Bat Mitzva, at age 12. We are still thinking about it. But it’s hard to even negotiate out of the deal because it seems that everyone in Israel has a cellphone, even kids – read this study. But it’s not only a problem in Israel, it’s a global problem, this study on children and cellphone usage in the US found.
On most days of the week we opt for “boring” activities at home like knitting or ceramics rather than television and my kids have almost altogether stopped playing video games on the phone. I have interviewed Israelis over the year and most jarringly one who has presented her work to Congress in the US on the dangers of cellphone radiation. According to this researcher I’ve interviewed in the past (from Tel Aviv University) children should not be touching the things, even with headsets.
There are plenty of Israelis offering advice on how to cure your kids’ addiction to cell phones, including from people advising on building addictive technologies. One option of course is to never give a smart phone to your child (hold yourself from giving your iPhone 6 and try reselling your phone instead), another is to make them use a “dumb” phone like the old Nokia handsets; or you can use these tactics proposed by Nir Eyal on how to manage being a parent in today’s complicated society with devices. It’s a sobering article.
Eyal wrote “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” in 2004 and it became one of those books every CEO in Silicon Valley wanted to read, starring on The Wall Street Journal’s best-seller list. Now he has written a new book on how to avoid the endless distractions and time-sucking limitations being addicted to cell phones brings along with it.
In his new book, “Behavioral Design and Time Management” he offers tips for parents too.
Eyal suggests that kids don’t get smart phones until 13, and that they don’t open any social media profiles until they are 18. It might sound tough like a 7:30 PM bedtime or TV only on Friday policy, but I think parents need to stop using the easy fallback method of letting the kids run wild on their phones, and let them run wild in the wild. And indeed Eyal puts the onus on the parents, rather than blame technology.
It’s easy to blame engineers at Facebook or Google for making such good and addictive products, but these are also products which may bring more and new opportunities to us to free up our time to theoretically spend more time with our kids. This summer for two months I spent with my kids in the wild, most of it on 200 acres in Northern Ontario. There were no cell phones or streaming movies, but the kids did have time to explore mud bogs, rescreen window frames to keep the bugs out, search for frogs for the frog races, and build a house for the blue-spotted salamander that we found.
Technology, cell phones and all that comes with it. I love it all. We just have to take responsibility so our kids use these tools to benefit their lives and society. Us parents just need to chill out and stop feeling guilty about it all.