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Parents unite to delay phone ownership

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“But Josh has one!” is no longer a valid argument for children trying to convince their parents to give them smartphones. King David Primary School Linksfield’s #DelayistheWay initiative is an attempt to mitigate peer pressure around devices by uniting parents to delay their children’s ownership of cellphones and use of social media.

“The peer pressure is overwhelming. It’s starting very young. Parents don’t want to give phones, but don’t know what to do,” said educational psychologist, author, and mom, Ashley Jay, at the launch of the school’s foundation phase #DelayistheWay initiative, aimed at parents of children between Grades 1 and 3.

Jay has teamed up with fellow King David Linksfield mom Sarah Hoffman, a social media lawyer and the co-founder of Klikd, which helps parents and kids navigate social media safely. A WhatsApp group has been formed, and volunteers have been appointed to act as representatives of the campaign for each of the grades involved.

Early device ownership started as a professional problem for both Jay and Hoffman, but as parents, they became worried about it on a personal level. “Regardless of our qualifications, we’re two moms who want to try and change the status quo of what it means to be a kid,” says Jay. “We want to nurture that childhood experience.”

While the pair have the school’s full backing, they decided that it’s more powerful to have a parent-led movement in tackling the issue of kids and devices. Similar programmes have been successful at Yeshiva College and at numerous schools overseas.

#DelayistheWay is an important component of King David’s “Cool to be kind” initiative, says Rabbi Ricky Seeff, the general director of King David Schools. The initiative has gained momentum through various formal and experiential lessons and projects since its January launch.

King David has now partnered with Klikd on a curriculum aimed at tackling digital citizenship and social media skills development. “The cherry on top has been to see our parents partnering with us and initiating a project to delay the use of cellphones,” says Seeff. “The buy-in from parents in earlier grades is essential, and we couldn’t be prouder of the momentum it’s gaining.”

The thinking behind #DelayistheWay is that if parents team up as a collective, they can alleviate the peer pressure their children are facing by explaining that they aren’t the only ones without their own phones. “The power of collective parenting is that the child doesn’t feel alone or excluded,” Hoffman told a Klikd webinar held by King David primary schools centred on managing kids and devices. “There’s huge power in a small collective of like-minded parents.”

What are parents saying no to? “We’re delaying personal phone ownership until Grade 6. We’re not saying they must never use a phone, they just don’t need their own ones yet,” says Jay. “They can play games at clearly defined times on your device, but on multi-player platforms, they may play only with friends they know in real life. There should also be device-free times like mealtimes and playdates. You’re allowed to put in boundaries, and they’re allowed to be upset with you,” Jay stresses.

The initiative also delays the use of social media. Jay warns of the dangers of social media algorithms, which serve only to reinforce children’s fear or self-esteem issues. “In addition, cyber bullying is a major issue in our schools,” she says. “There’s exclusion, passive aggressiveness, and with social media, our kids can’t disconnect.”

This delay also gives parents time to educate their children on the etiquette of online communication by leading by example. “We must teach them how to speak to someone nicely when they are sending a message,” says Jay. “It’s also about setting fair social boundaries around device usage. Even adults sit on phones during a wedding speech, for example, which is so disrespectful. If we’re doing that, what can we expect our kids to be doing at parties and playdates?”

Far from improving, the screen-time conundrum parents face today is getting worse, say Jay and Hoffman. The two advocate acting as early as possible. “Start teaching them healthy social media and device-ownership habits when they’re still young, when it’s easier to teach them such skills,” Jay says.

“It’s not about raising kids with no technology skills, we’re trying to teach them certain life skills that don’t involve a screen while they’re children,” she says. These skills are centred on emotional regulation; outdoor play; interacting with peers; face to face interaction; and so on, the kind of experiences children need before diving into the online world. It’s all about creating a fair balance and building them up to the stage where they can handle having ownership of their own device.

Indeed, overexposure to electronic devices and social media too early can result in what’s known as the “displacement effect”. “This occurs when continuous onscreen consumption displaces other activities that are crucial to a child’s emotional, social, and cognitive development and skillsets,” says Jay. At different stages of childhood, such activities promote skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, self-reflection, and resilience.

“Social interaction is essential for understanding and relating to others’ emotions and viewpoints,” Jay says. “They need the in-person, real-life experiences that teach them to read emotional cues and to show empathy, which is crucial for building strong, healthy relationships.” This is especially important in today’s world where emotional intelligence is vital.

If your child is already on a device, it’s ok to explain why things have changed, experts say. “You can’t be held hostage in your own home,” says Hoffman. “Let your child know that parents can change their minds, and that you’re acting together with other parents.” Be a fair authority, and explain your thinking as well as the accountability and responsibility they need to show you before they can own a device.

“Ultimately, the greatest offset against any online harm,” says Hoffman, “is you as a parent.” #DelayistheWay is about connected, engaged, and informed parents who are in it together.

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