Jackson, 8-years-old at the time, hopped into my minivan, and before I could pull out of the school parking lot, he said, “Everybody has a smartphone, but me.”
"Everybody has a smartphone, but me."
He was exaggerating, but I knew this was the first of many requests for a phone. He also started asking to bike around the block and scooter down to the park with his best friend. Being available at the tap of a button was the safest way for him to start exploring without me.
This was a few years ago, and I searched online for “kid’s smartphone” and found Verizon’s GizmoWatch. It served the purpose, but he eventually started asking for a smartphone again. He wanted to text and call all of his friends.
This past fall he entered middle school: a new building full of kids as tall as grown-ups. He brought his watch (now with a broken clasp), and called me from behind buildings to avoid getting teased. At this point, I think he truly was the only kid without a smartphone.
"Waiting as long as possible" wasn't my plan, but I didn't know an alternative.
Kids with smartphones is foreign to me because I got my first phone---a flip phone---at the age of 16. To text a friend, I had to click a button up to three times to enter a single letter. Of course, cyber bullying didn't exist back then; too much effort! Regardless of what I (thankfully) didn’t experience first-hand, I read about the horrors that kids experience through modern technology. So, avoiding cyber bullying was a huge factor in my search for my pre-teen’s smartphone.
But the biggest hurdle for me was how to introduce a new piece of technology that allowed Jackson to access the outer corners of the internet. I’m not even referring to mature content, as much as over-consumption.
This might sound bizarre, but hear me out. Jack’s a good kid, and he typically just wants to play video games online. What I mean by over-consumption is that he squirrels away any tablet, laptop, or handheld gaming system he can get his hands on to binge-play the night away.
He has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), just like a lot of kids.
He has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), just like a lot of kids. But, just like a lot of kids, he’s unique. It’s difficult for him to say no to screen time, even when he knows it’s breaking a rule. Research shows that some kids with ADHD have a form of addiction to technology, and I can see that difficulty first-hand. So, I follow our pediatrician’s advice, and limit his screen time, but he always finds a workaround.
I knew I needed a smartphone with strong parental controls, because I didn't want to bring one more temptation into his life. And this line of thinking wasn’t to protect just him. I was exhausted from trying to outsmart him, and I’m ashamed to admit that his behavior would sometimes drive me to losing my cool. I didn’t like what modern tech was doing to him, to me, and to our relationship.But every parental control, blocker, PIN, and app failed us. I think he started to see my blocks as personal challenges, like an escape room full of hiding spots and codes to break, designed just for him every evening.
Friends told me which parental control apps they used, but in the time that it takes for me to install a new blocker, he’s already found a loophole and watched five “chubby cat” videos on YouTube. So, I constantly searched for a better parental block.
I knew what we did---and didn’t---need for Jackson to live a fuller life.
Entering middle school in the height of a pandemic has to be tough, and it was vital for him to text and call his friends to maintain their friendships, especially while they’re all full-time remote learning.
He also needed to have a better lifeline to his dad. We divorced a few years ago, and they don’t get the quality time with each other that they used to. Just like everyone else, this year was difficult for him. But the simple act of sending an emoji to a loved one means keeping a bond alive.
The simple act of sending an emoji to a loved one means keeping a bond alive.
So, this past Christmas I decided to give him a smartphone, and prayed to find parental controls that were smarter than he was. As I searched articles and blogs (deciding that I wouldnot buy him a flip phone as some bloggers suggest), Pinwheel popped up.
I was immediately intrigued. A smartphone designed for kids. Finally!
The features aligned perfectly with what he needed, and the monthly cost was half of what I was planning to spend by adding a line to my carrier. Psychologist-approved apps were the clincher, and I signed up on the spot.
Jackson now talks with his friends on a daily basis, and he’s exchanged numbers with new school friends he’s met virtually in breakout rooms. In the Parent Portal, I see the happy exchanges between him and his dad, and requests to see if friends are free to meet up at the park.
We've got this now.
Last week my 7-year-old daughter asked for a smartphone, and I didn’t even sweat. We’ve got this now.
Guest article by Julie T., a Pinwheel Parent from CO.