Sunday, January 29, 2023

Can you hear me now? Are smartphones ‘life savers’ or distractions for kids?

(File photo/Flickr)
(File photo/Flickr)

Smartphones are essential to adults, but should they be to children and teenagers?

For some parents in Greater Williamsburg, the latest iPhone release makes them hesitant about giving their children the newest smartphone, while other parents said they wanted to keep in touch with their children and smartphones were the best option.

While parents in Williamsburg try to strike the balance, a movement against giving smartphones to children started in Austin, Texas.

Last year, the “Wait Until 8th” movement sprung up out of a conversation between a group of Texans. Out of the conversation a pledge was created. It calls for a family to delay the purchase of a smartphone for a child until he or she reaches 8th grade, according to Wait Until 8th spokeswoman Brooke Shannon.

“The Wait Until 8th pledge empowers parents to rally together to delay giving children a smartphone until at least 8th grade,” Shannon wrote in an emailed statement.

“Smartphones are addictive, an academic distraction, and expose children to content and situations they are not equipped to navigate.”

For adults and children alike, iPhones and Androids are more than types of smartphones, they creates access to whole other worlds.

But some Williamsburg-James City County School Division parents say giving a smartphone to their children poses too big of a risk.

One WJCC mom told WYDaily cellphones in general were dangerous enough that she decided to get her two daughters limited-functionality smartwatches.

Marcela Estrada D’Costa bought two GizmoGadget smartwatches from Verizon to keep in touch with her two daughters.

“They are not ready and won’t be having a smartphone with internet access until they are a 14 or 15,” D’Costa wrote in a Facebook message.

The 9- and 12-year-old girls can call and text message a select set of contacts through the smartwatches.

For D’Costa’s family, the smartwatches aren’t like a new iPhone since they’re not as attention grabbing to her daughters.

The two girls play with dolls and draw in coloring books as opposed to staring at a cell phone for hours on end, according to D’Costa.

Marcela D'Costa's daughter using the GizmoGadget smartwatch (Courtesy Marcela D'Costa)
Marcela D’Costa’s daughter using the GizmoGadget smartwatch (Courtesy Marcela D’Costa)

Many parents give smartphones as a “replacement” for attention they might otherwise give to their children, D’Costa wrote. “We [would] rather provide our kids with a safe ‘need’ than an unnecessary and unsafe distraction.”

While some parents are weighing in on social media, some scholars are attempting to find the balance between positive and negative behavior on smartphones.

In PEDIATRICS magazine, a scholarly article opined that smartphones have a potential to educate children, but the devices also have the potential to distract and displace other activities.

“Because young children need to develop internal mechanisms of self-regulation, it needs to be determined whether mobile device use, although helpful in the short term, could be detrimental to later social-emotional outcomes when used as the principal way in which children are taught to calm themselves down,” according to the article in PEDIATRICS.

The devices can be used to quiet down a child, but they don’t teach a child when to quiet himself or herself down, according to the article.

However, not every parent agrees. For Pam Harabis Neff, the administrator of a popular Facebook group in Williamsburg and James City County and mother of three daughters in the WJCC school division, smartphones were a necessity.

“We’ve always felt more connected to our children since they’ve had phones,” Neff wrote in a Facebook message. “Look back on many events in the past 10 years or so and you will find so many tragic events where having a phone has proven to be life-saving.”

While Neff was in a New York City hospital being treated for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, she communicated everyday with her family through their smartphones.

It was hard being away, but she felt closer to her kids because of their communications over the smartphones.

“I was able to keep in close contact with my kids while I was in NYC [New York City] for 5 months at the beginning of this year while I had a stem cell transplant,” Neff wrote.

The GizmoGadget smartwatch allows for both D'Costa and her daughters to text message and call in a 'safe' way. (Courtesy Marcela D'Costa)
The GizmoGadget smartwatch allows for both D’Costa and her daughters to text message and call in a ‘safe’ way. (Courtesy Marcela D’Costa)

Smartphones have been a figurative ‘life saver’ for some parents, from late-school buses and late night calls to keeping in touch with loved ones. Parents’ reasons for purchasing smartphones are plentiful.

While the debate continues between parents and scholars alike, 300 Virginia families have pledged to Wait Until 8th before buying smartphones for their children, according to Shannon.

The number of Greater Williamsburg families participating in the pledge was not available due to privacy concerns.

For everyone involved though, the debate on smartphones is nuanced and won’t be answered overnight.

“If we can keep them away from smartphones and all the distraction and danger those come with, we will do it,” D’Costa said.

To contact the reporter, email 

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