WATCHING KIDS, THEIR CELLPHONES
WHEN my daughter was born in 2005, managing cellphones at a sleepover wasn’t even on my parenting radar. Thirteen birthdays later, I agreed to host a slumber party with 13 girls. They would play games, watch movies, eat ice cream and sleep on our living-room floor. And cellphones were my main concern.
At 11pm, my daughter put out a bright pink basket and asked the 11 girls with phones to pass them over. Three phones appeared. I picked up the basket and walked around to girls, still on their phones, and asked them to please put them in with the others. Five more phones. I put it on the table and made a general request that anyone still holding a phone put it with the others, and I went to get ready for bed. Ten minutes later, I collected the phones from my daughter.
“There’s nine,” she said. “That’s pretty good, right?”
Great. Somewhere, shoved under pillows or stuffed animals, were two remaining phones. I looked at my daughter’s face and I could see her silently begging me not to make a scene, not to go on a search, not to embarrass her.
Parenting in the age of technology comes with its own set of challenges, and none is clearer to me, a newly minted parent of young teenagers, than how we regulate cellphone use.
The average age a child gets a cellphone is 10. According to research released last year by Nielsen, of the kids who have phones before 13, 45% get them between ages 10 and 12, and 16% have phones when they are eight. By the teenage years, 95% of kids have access to a smartphone.
All of this translates into more phones at younger ages, which means that phones are the norm in places where they used to be the exception. Places such as sleepovers.
In the past two years, my daughter has been invited to parties that use phones for scavenger hunts, photos and making movies. But what happens at 2am, when the games are done, and a parent is left with a group of kids, with relatively unsupervised access to phones?
“What we see with sleepovers is what I would call diminished inhibition that comes with sleep deprivation,” says Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, and the blog Raising Digital Natives. “A kid who makes sensible decisions at 8am and 8pm might not be the kid who makes sensible decisions after hours of junk food, of no sleep, of being kind of worn down by peers.”
Our first experience with this latenight lapse in judgment came two years ago, when my son woke up to a text that said: “We have taken your sister”. Funny to her friends, when sent from her phone, but scary to my groggy son, who was convinced his sister had been kidnapped.
He calmed down only when we called his sister to show him she was fine. Plot twist: She was asleep, had no idea the text had been sent and felt terrible about it. Beyond the sleep deprivation, kids are in a group with no exit at a sleepover, and trying to fit in with their friends.
Internet safety and cyberbullying have become hot topics for parents and tweens, and many parents use hardware or apps to cut off access to the internet, thinking that will keep kids off adult sites and out of trouble. But limiting access doesn’t curb the trouble caused by phones at sleepovers. | The Washington Post/ African News Agency (ANA)