So your kid wants a cell phone for Christmas? Mine, too. But they’re 5 and 7 so that’s not happening.

At first, I wanted to be shocked my 5-year-old kid wants a cell phone. Then I realized it’s the world we live in. And well … she sees mine in my hand and in my face probably way too much.

It’s normal to our kids.

Which is why Mandy Majors, founder of Next Talk, says we all have to “agree that the digital world has changed parenting, but [we] don’t know what that really means.”

Personally, I wonder, has it changed parenting because now we as parents have an excusable distraction? Or has it changed parenting because we as parents can now offer our children an excusable distraction?

NextTalk intends to support and educate parents on how the digital world is changing our job. Because, “We’ve lost the art of conversation in between the watching and behavior.”

I have to agree.

A friend of mine wrestling with similar issues around tech and parenting, grabbed some time with Mandy to get her insight on what to do if your kid wants a cell phone. Here is what Mandy said.

When your kid wants a cell phone, how do you know they’re ready?

First, you have to decide if you’re ready to do the extra work as a parent. You have to perform random phone checks, and know the social media platforms your kids are on. I also have all of my kids’ accounts saved on my phone and logged in so I can see any direct messages they receive.

The second question to ask is if your child already tells you about inappropriate things he or she sees online or from friends. Are your kids comfortable coming to you to talk about what they’ve been exposed to?

How much technology use is too much?

Now everything is done by screens, so you have to decide what you consider to be screen time. I think of screen time as a kid being on social media in an open space but by herself. (Watching TV as a family is not considered screen time in our house.)

If I see one of my kids’ attitudes change after being online more than usual, I have a conversation with him or her about it. Your kids need to see how their feelings and attitude change when they’ve had too much screen time.

The goal while kids are under my roof is to teach them how to have a healthy balance with screens. Sometimes, we do screen-free Sunday so we can all reset.

What about bullying?

We’ve always been aware of bullying at school, but now with phones, it never shuts down.

Did you know, kids who are cyberbullied are twice as likely to commit suicide? (Suicide is the second leading cause of death for kids ages 12 to 24.)

As parents, we think we’re protecting them by not giving kids a phone, but if they don’t have access to social media, they may worry even more about what’s being said about them. Sometimes it becomes even worse in their head than what’s actually happening online.

What about stranger danger?

Online strangers are just as sinister and real as the kidnappers we feared when our children were toddlers. Kids can literally be sitting next to us on the family sofa thinking they’re chatting on their game with a 12-year-old boy, but it’s really a sex-trafficking pimp trying to groom them.

And everyone’s legitimate fear: pornography

It used to be quite the covert operation for a teen to get their hands on a magazine. Now with just the touch of a button on the device in their back pocket, they get to videos. Not just photos. It also used to be just woman-on-man porn, but there’s a huge rise on homosexual porn and threesomes.

At NextTalk, we’re getting calls from parents of 6- to 8-year-olds whose kids have found it. Sometimes it’s not at their house. It’s at a neighbor’s house or they have a kid telling them about it in great detail on the playground or even at church.

How should parents navigate our high-tech world with their kids?

My daughter was told about porn at the lunch table in fourth grade. As a Christian parent, I thought as long as I don’t give her a phone, I won’t have to worry about it.

But here’s the thing. You can delay the phone as much as you want, but you cannot delay the conversations. Kids can still be exposed when they don’t have their own phones, so they need to know how to respond when these things pop up.

You actually have more control if they have their own device, because you can teach them what to look at and what not to look at. Thinking no phone means no exposure is really a false sense of security. We can’t put our heads in the sand. This is affecting all of us no matter how good of parents we are.

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How can parents keep communication lines open with kids and encourage them to talk about what they see online?

You have to maintain your confidence. It’s important for your kids to know they can trust you and that you’re not going to immediately make a post about it or call their friends’ parents right away.

The other thing to be careful about? Preaching at them.

A lot of times when our kids are simply asking questions, we launch into 20-minute rants about why that subject is wrong. Then they tune us out.

The car is a great time for these conversations, too, because our kids aren’t forced to look at us. Sometimes I’ll say that my opinion doesn’t matter, so they should look up verses on that subject to see what God says.

We want our kids to see God’s character in this and understand that He is actually protecting us by giving us boundaries.

How do you respond when they do tell you they’ve been exposed to inappropriate things?

It is important to praise our kids when they share with us. I reward my kids and let them download a new app–obviously one I’ve approved. Kids are not going to want to tell us things if we panic in response and take away their technology. Instead, we should reward them.

What do you ask your kids to report to you?

I ask my kids to show me when they come across anyone wearing a bathing suit or less. Also anything violent, threatening or bullying. Cuss words. Anyone asking them for personal information online. Also, I’d like to see any new word that they don’t know.

Okay, wow. I don’t know about you, but I’m reminded that I am not giving in when my kid wants a cell phone for Christmas. Not yet. But that’s easier for me to say with early elementary kids.

If you feel it’s time to oblige when your kid wants a cell phone for Christmas, now Mandy and NexTalk have you set with some boundaries that will help it work.


Copyright © 2019 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Tracy Lane is a writer for FamilyLife. She is the author of numerous articles, coauthor of Passport2Identity, and guest on multiple FamilyLife Today broadcasts. Tracy and her husband, Matt, live in the Philadelphia suburbs with their two daughters. Follow her special needs motherhood journey at HeartForAnnie. Find her on instagram @HeartForAnnie. 

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