Rowe parents call to Wait Until 8th on smartphones for kids

Rowe parents Lauren Murphy, Nicole Juneau, Sara Bennett and Kristin Helms are leading the local Wait Until 8th effort.
(Karen Billing)

A group of R. Roger Rowe School parents is leading a local effort to encourage parents to sign onto a national initiative to hold off on giving a smartphone to their children until at least eighth grade.

Rancho Santa Fe parents Sara Bennett, Kristin Helms, Nicole Juneau and Lauren Murphy hope that by parents banding together by taking the Wait Until 8th pledge, they can decrease the pressure felt by kids and parents alike over youngsters having a smartphone.

The group of parents approached Superintendent Donna Tripi about getting the program started at R. Roger Rowe School and they were invited to present at an informational meeting about Wait Until 8th at the school on Dec. 6.

“We are totally in favor of this initiative as an administrative team,” said Tripi. “This has been an issue at school continually, a lot of our discipline issues have been because kids are misusing their smartphones.”

Last year the school board even considered a proposal from a company that produces a pouch that locks up student phones during the school day.

According to Wait Until 8th, the average American child receives their first smartphone at age 10 and 45% of U.S. teenagers report that they are online almost constantly.

Rowe Elementary School Principal Megan Loh said at Rowe, a few kids start to get smartphones in fourth grade. In fifth grade, she said every year is hit or miss — last year about 50% of fifth graders had a smartphone but this year it is a little less. By sixth grade, she said the majority of the students have one.

Bennett said there are many reasons behind opting to delay handing over a smartphone to young kids, including impacts on brain development from an excessive amount of time spent on screens to the essential childhood experiences that are pushed aside when kids spend three to five hours a day staring at a phone.

She said overuse of technology causes academic distractions and can interfere with relationships as kids miss out on opportunities to engage with one another. One parent at the meeting described how their child felt he had lost a friend because his friend was always on his phone.

Smartphones also increase the risk of cyberbullying and exposure to sexual content, Bennett said, adding that spending time on social media increases the risks for anxiety and depression.

The group said they understand the hesitation and concerns many parents have about their kid not having a phone and not being able to contact them or know where they are at all times. Bennett said there are alternatives to the smartphone like a basic phone just to make or receive calls or texts with no access to the internet or an app store. Wait Until 8th provides multiple alternatives on its website including the Gizmo Watch which provides two-way voice calling and messaging with up to 10 trusted contacts and the Gabb Wireless phone which allows calling and texting as well as limited essentials like a calculator, calendar and alarm.

If 10 families sign the Wait Until 8th pledge, the parents are notified in order to create a community of support. As Bennett said, the Wait Until 8th initiative is just at the beginning stages at Rowe and they are open to ideas on how to build their community moving forward.

“This is not the path, it is a path,” said Bennett. “Our goal is to provide parents with information so that they can make their own decision on how they want to move forward with their children with cell phone usage.”

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