Ahh, summer in Minnesota. It’s a precious time we all cherish. Getting outdoors to enjoy the warmth and sunshine–biking, grilling, swimming, or whatever your favorite activities are, summer always reminds us why we live here. For families, it’s also a great season to reflect on how we spend our time and discuss future aspirations.

One topic that seems to be consistently on parents’ minds is social media–the ultimate time drain. Until recently, the concern over this for children wasn’t on my radar. My kids didn’t have smartphones yet, so it was something I’d tackle someday down the road. That day came earlier than anticipated, and the past couple of years have been eye-opening. We’ve learned, and I believe, the more parents communicate and share stories, successes, and failures, the better a society we can help create.

Due to the lockdown, we allowed our oldest daughter to have a smartphone earlier than planned. She was 11 and needed a way to stay in touch with friends. She could text and call (without the internet or social media). This plan felt safe. However, we didn’t know that most kids in her circle don’t text or call much. Enter: Snapchat…or, as we now refer to it, the social media snake in the weeds. We knew Snapchat wasn’t going to be appropriate for her age. At least that’s what the research told us, and we’d been warned by other parents. So, we had many conversations and waited. Eventually, we convinced ourselves that our daughter was mature enough to handle it with our supervision. But by then, she no longer wanted it. She was back in school and saw the unfortunate outcomes first-hand: some became reliant upon it, some were using it to alienate others, and some were less interested in genuine connection. So, we waited some more.Eventually, she downloaded it, and soon to follow was the ultimate time and innocence thief—TikTok.

I won’t go into detail to respect my daughter’s privacy, but we immediately noticed some new behaviors that were inconsistent with her personality. The harmful effects of social media use on children have been well documented, and if you’re reading this and are a parent of a child with a phone, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This prompted me to seek out resources to help navigate this social media terrain.

That’s when I stumbled upon Wait Until 8th. This organization is a group of moms who noticed an unsettling scene they’d come across daily near their school: middle schoolers staring at their phones, absent of engaged eyes and conversations. They wanted the scene to look different for their kiddos, so they banded together and had their kids wait until 8th grade to get a smartphone and even longer for social media. This approach drastically minimized the social pressure to obtain smartphones. Their mission has evolved into empowering parents with tools to delay smartphones, allowing kids to be kids a little longer, and wisely entering this conversation when the time is right. It’s been reported that the average age kids get a phone is 10, and many spend 6-9 hours on them daily. This is alarming. It’s hitting our kids hard and chipping away at their precious time in childhood. Wait Until 8th offers a variety of helpful resources like:

  • Smartphone alternatives like the Gizmo watch, Gabb phone, or a flip phone with no internet access
  • A list of questions to determine if he/she is ready: Are they good at obeying screen time with other devices? How are their social skills? Are you prepared as a parent to manage their usage and activity?
  • Tips on how to start conversations with your child’s friend’s parents

They also provide guides for parental control, app safety, usage fundamentals and agreements, and suggestions on cultivating creativity instead of consumption. For more info, see their website: www.waituntil8th.org.

Thankfully, having been armed with these resources and others, we’ve struck a balance with our daughter and will be doing things differently with her younger sister. I’ve started conversations with her friend’s parents, and most agree. We’re working together to curb social media social damage while encouraging our kids to use their imaginations to play, create, learn, and build genuine friendships. Join us, will you? Let’s make this summer (and ones to follow)unforgettable by giving our kids the gift of boredom, so they can do what they’re meant to do—be kids!

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