The Gift of No Devices

Thank you to Anne Marie Doyle for co-authoring this post with me!

This summer my sister, also a school library media-specialist, and I discussed getting our own children Chromebooks for Christmas. We both work in public schools with one-to-one initiatives. My sister and I are both very techie. We love finding new tools and ways to engage and enhance student learning and creativity with technology. We are both are passionate about making sure our students and our own children use technology responsibly and ethically. 

It seems that we would want our own children ages 6, 8, and 11 (my sister's kids are the two older ones) to have device to learn on. However, we both quickly changed our minds.  
In both our homes, we have computers, iPads, Kindles and smartphones. We allow our children to use them but make no mistake, they are OUR devices, not our children's. Allowing them to use technology is a privilege, not a right. My sister has a chart where her children must do chores, read for an allotted amount of time, and play/color/ride bikes/etc before earning a set time on a device. That tech time they work towards includes watching YouTube videos, playing on Xbox, or using the iPad. I have a timer to limit my son's iPad usage. 

Our children use the devices in family rooms so we can monitor, assist and encourage them. They are not allowed to use in their bedrooms. Could I monitor, encourage and assist my child on his own device? Yes but he is 6, does he really need a device? Does he really need a piece of technology he can call his own? My sister's children are older and are great kids but does that mean they should have their own laptop? Like all kids, they are curious and impulsive, a combination that could be a recipe for disaster. Yes, those disasters allow us to teach life lessons but sometimes those life lessons are not age appropriate. It has been hard enough trying to explain what they hear about on the news and see in the newspaper these days.

Technology is addictive. We know that. Giving a child a device before they are ready assumes they already know how to use it responsibly. It assumes that the child is psychologically ready and the the child has supportive adults to assist and guide students. 

"My eight year old daughter has been using an old iPod touch we found when cleaning the house. It is not an understatement when I state that in the 48 hours since we discovered it, the iPod has been by her side. Part of the problem I notice is many of my children’s friends have their own devices and my children feel pressure to have their own. Every family has to make the best choice for their children. I know my children are not ready for the enormity of having their own device. Weekly my son and daughter ask “how old do I have to be to get my own phone?”  When my children begin to spend more time out with friends, especially when they are old enough for those times are unsupervised, I want them to have the ability to contact me.  But since mine are not at that point yet we will wait.  I believe that we need to model responsible use first as adults and hope that that will become intrinsic in our own kids.   That means restraint and technology free times at home with the family. No phone message, social media notification, text message or tweet should be more important than my children." 
-Anne Marie Doyle

Sitting in church last week we witnessed a mother with three elementary aged children check and reply to messages on her phone multiple times. Across the aisle a cell phone rang, another ones text alerts went off. What lessons are our children learning from us? Church, playgrounds, beach, library, parent teacher conferences, restaurants, sporting events, concerts, theater productions, and driving...no where is sacred. Instead, we treat our phones like they are the most important and sacred thing as they garner our full attention no matter what the circumstance.

I always have my phone or tablet close by. I say it's in case someone (my son's teacher, my aging parents) need to get in touch with me. But it truly is the fear of missing out. I try not to respond like Pavlov's dog each time it dings but I am not always successful. My sister is the same way. However, we make a point of talking to our children about our behavior and make sure they see us leaving our phones in the car when we are at church or a movie. Within our own families we have rules that we give our children permission to help enforce - no phones at the dinner table, no phones in the bedrooms*. We want them to understand balance and restraint. We want them to see life is what is happening around them and not what is happening on a screen.  

What will be the right age to give our children their own devices? I truly do not know. Right now I am thinking 8th or 9th grade. We need to see how our children's personalities develop, gauge their maturity and their sense of responsibility. My sister just allowed my nephew to get his own email address, that was a huge milestone...he was so excited! He will be using

Is the ability to use technology an important life skill? Absolutely! But there are a lot more important things that we want our children to prioritize and learn before giving them a personal device.  


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