This column continues the series on setting limits on social media and the internet at different ages. This is the second part of a discussion on the expectations for kids in grades 5 and 6. The focus of this column will be recommendations for cell phones, video games and social media accounts.
Cell Phones. It is really difficult for a kid to not have a cell phone at this age (in this era). Virtually all real time communication occurs through texting. The problem is that 5-6 graders are only just beginning to develop the level of cognitive sophistication necessary to make informed choices, control impulses and accurately anticipate future outcomes. So why don’t we put a device in their hands that affords them the opportunity to give rein to any impulse they have, makes them accessible to every kind of person as a moral and behavioral influence and is designed to operate on a moment to moment basis. I don’t think so. From this perspective, let’s review the advisability of each function of the cell phone.
Internet access. There is still no need for your kid to have access to the internet through their phone at this age. Nothing they need to do requires cell phone internet access and they are vulnerable to all the trouble that can be caused by curiosity, impulsivity and peer encouragement. Internet access on the cell phones at this age is trauma and trouble just waiting to happen. No Access.
Apps. As in the previous developmental period, your kid should still only have apps on their phone that you have approved first. Any discovery of unapproved apps should lead to the removal of all apps and the confiscation of the phone until your child has demonstrated that they are trustworthy again. Adult Presence Only.
Texting (along with Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, Snapchat, etc.). If you followed recommendations from the previous developmental stage, your kid doesn’t have texting on their phone. Now is the age to begin to introduce them to this wonderful world of irrelevant and shallow communication. That means it is time to have the first serious talk about texting—before you make it available to them. Be sure to include these points:
- Don’t text or read texts while talking to someone face to face.
- Establish no texting zones (e.g., dinner, during performances, classrooms, etc.).
- Limit texting times.
- Establish language and content restrictions (e.g., no cussing, no promotion of immoral acts, etc.).
- Review the problems of leaving a written record.
- Texts will be subject to random review.
First only allow texting. No other quick communication app or program. Review their texts every one or two days. Literally take their phone in their presence and scan through their texts. “But that is an invasion of privacy!” Please. If they wanted to keep it private they should have talked in person. Besides, you paid for the phone. You own the phone. Anything on the phone belongs to you. That includes texts. High to Extreme Monitoring.
Any violations should result in long lectures for 7 straight days in which your child has to recite back to you the main points you have been making about the nature of their texting transgression. Require them to demonstrate they have learned their lesson by an unbroken period of time (start with 7 days) proving they have grown and matured. For example, if they texted while someone was talking to them, require them to have long conversations with you or their grandfather about when he was young (as long as he had an uneventful life) without looking bored or wandering off until they are finished. Only consider allowing other social communication applications after they have demonstrated responsible texting for 6 months unbroken by violations.
Photographs and Video recording. There is no need for kids this age to take photographs or videos with their cell phones. It is fun, sure, but the potential for misuse and impulsively poor decision making is huge. Get a phone without a camera (hard to do) or destroy the camera lens by putting Epoxy glue over it (easy to do). There are some phones (http://www.kajeet.com/4u/index.html) that allow you to program certain functions include the camera capability so that may be another option. Make your budding photographer use your camera. That way you will know what they have been photographing. No Access.
Video Games. There are several places you can get an overview of video games (including my book). Video games are a significant source of socialization (and desensitization) for the players. This is particularly true for kids. There is a long list of desirable and undesirable behaviors video game players are exposed to (and encouraged to exhibit). Here are some of the more worrisome ones: lying, cheating, stealing, arbitrary violence, murder, sexual assault, lawlessness, glorification of criminal and immoral behavior, absence of real world consequences, cussing, emotional venting and explosive anger, resolving anger with brute force. Your kid is learning how to respond to situations (and being rewarded with gaming success) through these actions. It is bad enough when kids are playing against the game system or another person who is right next to them. It is worse when gaming is done online. Your 5th and 6th grader has not had enough experience living their own morals and emotion management to expose them to these role models.
As a rule, limit game play to games with kid ratings, non-adult games and non-aggressive games. There are some great strategy, sports, action and musical games that are very engaging and do not promote violence and debauchery. Your 5th and 6th grader is not ready for massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORG). MMORG are games where people from all over the planet can be connected to your kid through their headset as part of a team having every kind of interaction both in the context of the game and through observations, conversations and direct comments made during play. Extreme Monitoring.
Social Media Accounts. The official rules of most social media accounts include restricting use to children 13 or older. You kid needs to be doing something other than spending their time reviewing the life they just lived and trying to spice it up to make it interesting. Wonder why people have been talking a lot about how self-focused kids are becoming? Creating a social web page of your life is not the same as living your life. Don’t allow your kids to have a social media account yet. If you weaken and give in, keep it at Extreme Monitoring (see here for a review of levels of parental monitoring). No Access.
Blogs, chat rooms and other online diaries. No. No. No. There is absolutely no benefit and terrible potential cost. Get them a leather bound diary and teach them to write with a pen. No Access.