I see you, parents who carefully considered when to allow your child to get a phone and use social media. You weighed the pros and cons and came to a thoughtful conclusion.
You felt good about your decision until your kid came home and declared that everyone else has a phone and Instagram and TikTok, and now they’re left out of everything, and IT’S JUST NOT FAIR!
Read on for tips on standing firm, knowing when to compromise, and helping your child through their feelings.
Anytime kids say, “everyone else,” it’s worth remembering children are often prone to globalizing. Before you go into solution mode, take the time to get all the facts.
Ask your child to be specific about who has what access. Is it one or two friends that have a Snapchat, or are they literally the only one in their friend group without a phone and social media accounts?
As you listen, try to put yourself in their shoes. Think back to when you were young. Feeling left out is a legitimately difficult experience. Empathizing with your child doesn’t mean you need to give in, but it will help them feel heard — which goes a long way.
Provide a clear explanation for why you don’t think they’re ready for the digital access they’re requesting. If relevant, connect it to your family’s shared values.
Let them know when they will be allowed. If your benchmark isn’t something tangible, like age, be as specific as possible about what needs to happen for you to get to yes.
For example, maybe your child will be ready for a phone when they show they can be responsible in other areas of their life. Explain that you understand they want a phone, but first, they need to consistently take care of their chores around the house and complete those missing homework assignments.
Be clear about your timeline for follow-up: let your child know that you can revisit the topic in a month, after they’ve had time to show how responsible they can be.
Once you have a handle on what your child hopes to gain from more digital privileges, work with them to come up with alternative ways to meet those needs. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Facebook’s messaging app for kids allows for a high level of parental control. It's a great tool for kids to chat with family and friends in a safe, supervised way.
Consider giving your number to a few of your child’s close friends so they can correspond with them through your device.
Setting up a shared account with your child that you sit down and use together gives them some access, while allowing you the chance to coach them on responsible social media use. (Psst: This is a great way to introduce a parental monitoring tool like BrightCanary, which you can use to monitor their YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok activity.)
A family tablet or phone with parental controls is another option. Your child can message friends and use it to access authorized apps. Think of it as the modern equivalent of calling their friends on the house landline.
Make sure your child has plenty of opportunities to socialize and connect with friends offline. It’s easy for your child to feel left out when all their conversations happen in group messages, but hanging out with their friends in real life helps minimize that FOMO (fear of missing out). Consider hosting movie nights, game nights, or coordinating a larger group hangout with the other parents.
Occasionally revisit your decision about digital access to determine if you still feel the same way. If you do decide your opinion has changed, don’t get caught up in sticking to your guns just for the sake of not giving in.
While maintaining firm boundaries is important as a parent, you’re also allowed to change your mind. As long as you explain your reasons to your child and make it clear you’ve carefully considered your decision, it will be clear you’re not just bowing to their demands.
It’s difficult when your child’s friends have more digital access than they do. It can cause them to feel left out and to miss opportunities for socialization. This won’t be the last time that your kid feels left out or has the urge to keep up with the Joneses. Use this as an opportunity to help them build resiliency, understand your boundaries, and find a compromise together.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to address the issue. But with open communication and creative brainstorming, you can find a plan that everyone can — if not love — then at least live with.