Like modern American preteens, my kids have all asked for iPhones. This was good as it has led to several conversations about what it means to have a phone and more importantly about responsibility and stewardship. My children are 10 and 11. Are they ready? How do parents decide?
In our culture, we assign magic ages to things. In most states, 16 is the magic age to start driving a car. Eighteen is the magic age of legal adulthood, voting, and serving the military. Twenty-one is the magic age to buy alcohol, firearms, and rent vehicles. These ages reflect ideal ages for taking on new responsibilities and freedoms. But my maturity level did not always match those magical ages growing up and I know I often was very irresponsible with those new freedoms.
Do parents use magical ages too? What magical age do the kids need to be in order to have their first phone, date, or later curfew. Do we base these ages on the consensus age of most other families we know so our kids can be like their peers? And, so we feel like our peers? Is it based on the age we received these privileges or the age we wished we had received these privileges?
What are some real guidelines to decide such things? I'd love to hear from others who have gone down this road further than us as well. Here is the view from which we are starting:
God blesses us in many ways. He provides what we need, not necessarily what we would like to have. We all need to learn and celebrate this. The reason He may hold back blessings is to protect us because we are not ready for them. Is God being mean? No, it's God's protection. Likewise, we must be wise to not bless our kids with new freedom and responsibility when they are not ready to handle it.
2. Maturity, Not Age
Our kids often ask, "How old do I have to be to ____________?" Some kids can be developmentally behind or ahead. Where they are emotionally, mentally, and physically may not match their age. New privileges are new responsibilities as well. Thus, we have decided to grant new responsibilities according to maturity instead of physical age. They take the step when they are personally responsible enough and ready, not at some magical age. Certain kids may get an phone at an earlier or later age than their sibling because it's not about the age. (We also define "fair" as everyone getting the same thing and "what is right" as what is right for each child and their needs.)
Lord willing, our kids will be adults one day. They have to know how to live and thrive in the world we have, not the world we wish existed. Our primary goal is to point our kids to Christ and relate how they should navigate daily life to Him. They learn this in stages as they grow.
Electronic devices such as tablets and laptops prepare them for the actual electronic world in which we live. I think too much media is bad, but ignoring it will not prepare them for the actual world in which they live. We walk them through entertainment media and when to take breaks from it. We actually scan radio stations in the car sometimes and talk about popular songs, even inappropriate ones, and what is good and bad about their message. Sometimes even "appropriate" TV shows provide opportunities to talk about moral choices. I preview questionable movies or go to PluggedIn.com to read reviews before the kids watch them. We are starting to show them how to use these devices as tools and not just entertainment.
Other examples and ideas are welcomed. We are still learning ways to navigate these issues and have learned a lot from other parents with similar goals. How do we weigh the social factors they face if their friends have phones and they do not? What about the need of staying in touch when they are on the go more with friends?