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Smartphone Strategies For Families Just In Time For The Holidays


And it's time now for All Tech Considered.


SIEGEL: It's the gift-giving season, and for some families, that means the dreaded or beloved smartphone. It's a brave new world for parents when your kids can escape to a cyber world without leaving your living room. For some best practices when it comes to parents, kids and smartphones, we are turning now to Amanda Lenhart. She studies how children and families use technology. Welcome.

AMANDA LENHART: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: First things first - for those families still on the fence about when is the best time or the right time for handing over a smartphone to a kid, what's your guidance?

LENHART: People hate it when I say this, but I think it depends, right? Recent research suggests it's about age 10 when a lot of kids are now getting their phones, but it really depends. You could have a 10-year-old who's not particularly responsible and maybe can't keep track of their possessions. You can also have a 10-year-old who's really responsible, so...

SIEGEL: What kinds of conversations have you had? What questions do you hear from parents most?

LENHART: I think parents just want to know what to do, right? I think the thing about parenting today with digital technology is that you don't have your own experience to go back to and look at. You can't remember because when you were 10, there probably weren't cellphones. Parents think it's kind of a brave new world, and it changes so fast.

You know, I hear from parents things like, how should I kind of interact with my child around the cellphone? How can I keep tabs on them? What is the best practice here? How can I help my kid become a responsible digital citizen?

SIEGEL: Well, how can you help your kid become a responsible digital citizen?

LENHART: Well, I think there's actually multiple ways to do that, right? There's different ways to be a good digital parent. You can take the tactic. Let's say you're kind of tech savvy. You really like the technology, and you can use the technology. You can add monitoring software. You can have different kinds of conversations with your kid.

Maybe you're not so tech savvy, though, and you don't actually want to go the monitoring route. You can also have a policy of having lots of frequent conversations with your children about this, why this is important, what kinds of things you should share online and that you shouldn't share online. I think that's a lot of the really critical things, particularly for younger kids.

SIEGEL: Do you find a lot of parents or at least some parents who - like those who will say, our kids will not watch television at home? We just say our kids will not have smartphones. We'll put that off till sometime much later in their lives.

LENHART: Certainly. There's absolutely parents who make that choice, and that's a great choice for some families, right? I think we think that there's always like this exact right time to do things with the technology, but I think each family has to decide for itself what's the right thing to do.

SIEGEL: I would assume that one thing that parents hear from their 10-year-olds or their 9-year-olds, for that matter, is, all the other kids have phones; why don't I have a phone - sounds like there's a lot of pressure on children out there.

LENHART: Absolutely. When you see a room full of kids - you're at the lunch table, or you're after school, and everybody is looking down at their phones, it can be a powerful push to want to have this access.

And I would say also, for kids, at a certain point, they are in fact missing out on some of the social world because young people - kids and teens - are accessing social media, and they're interacting with each other in essentially what becomes as kind of digital third place. And so to not have access to that is a measure of deprivation for those kids.

SIEGEL: So you're saying that parents ought realistically to think of this as a social space that kids reach through their smartphones. And it's like, how old are you to go to the playground on your own or something? It's, how old are you to go and socialize with other kids in this virtual place?

LENHART: Yes, but it's also a place for accessing information, so I wouldn't forget that as well. I mean there's definitely issues around what kinds of content you want your child to have access to. But I do think the social space issue is an important one. And I think it also bears having a conversation, though, about how this social space is different, right? It is a social space where you can't always see who you're talking to. You don't always know how the things that you share in that space are going to be shared.

And so I think there are conversations that parents need to have with their kids when they hand over the phone for the first time and in an ongoing basis. It's not just something where you're going to be able to, like, give them the phone under the tree or at the table and move on from there.

SIEGEL: Amanda Lenhart is a senior research scientist with the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Thank you.

LENHART: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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