Come to the Table

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By: Krista Boan

Like many modern parents, I can fluently navigate analog and digital realities--and value them both.  I love a game of Twister.  And I speak Minecraft.  I can find my way along a country road.   But I also love my GPS.  I know the value of sitting beside a suffering friend, holding her hand in silence.  But I have also experienced beautiful, genuine outpourings of love over Facebook.  And while one of my greatest hopes is that my own children will learn how to use technology for good, I am also concerned by the research coming out about the effect smartphones are having on their generation. 

When I first heard about Wait Until 8th, I breathed a sigh of relief.  There were other parents out there who shared my concern, and they had come up with an idea: a pledge designed to help parents band together to delay giving their kids a smartphone until at least 8th grade.  Such a simple concept.  So much potential to transform communities. Be still, my heart.

And yet, the night my husband and I signed the pledge, my heart was not still.  On the contrary, it was thumping right out of my chest.  I. Was. Terrified. 

What kinds of backlash or social exclusion were we choosing for our kids? Would friends be willing to look up from their screens to listen to their jokes, struggles, ideas?  Would others go the extra mile to include our kids in middle school banter and fun?  Were we making the notoriously lonely experience of middle school that much lonelier?

And what about academics?   There was a rumor that middle schools in our district expect students to have smartphones these days; they use an app to keep track of their schedules. Homework.  Grades.  Teacher communication.  Educational resources.  Were we placing our kids at an academic disadvantage?  

And while parenthood has thickened my skin (wrinkled it too), I had flashbacks to the vicious parenting debates of my early motherhood:  Cloth or synthetic?  Breast or bottle?  Cry it out or soothe?  I had fought the good fight, and I had the scars to prove it. I was not hankering for any new topics of debate. I had learned the art of doing what works best for my own family. But there were rumors of friends who were disgusted by the "piousness" of parents who were delaying smartphones for their children.  Did I really want to spend my energy swimming upstream on this parenting issue ... especially if I was alone? 

I spent the next couple of months comforting myself with the design of the pledge; it isn't technically "in effect" for your child until there are 10 signatures in your grade at your school.  If no one else signed, we were off the hook.  But is that really what we wanted?  To be off the hook? 

Instead, I desperately continued to look for an email from Wait Until 8th notifying me that "10 other families have signed--and your pledge is now considered active."  Nothing came. You could hear the crickets. I caught a glimpse of the lonely place I was asking my kids to walk for the next few years. Were we flying our family into an actual black hole?

But it was there--in the silence-- that I realized something: if I was asking my kids to brave the black hole, I needed to jump in and be brave with them.   

I started with emails to my "safest" friends. The ones who wouldn't judge me or assume that I was judging them.  And it wasn't a landslide, but slowly, voices began to break the silence. Through car windows in the dismissal line.  Under the shade of the school's old oak tree.  Over coffee at my kitchen table ... "Thank you," they would say.  "I thought I was alone."

Confidence growing, but still fragile, I dusted off my school directory and focused my efforts on emailing all of the 1st and 2nd grade families. These grades were old enough to have smartphones on the radar, but still had a bit of distance from the emotion and pressures that hover around the corner of 5th grade.   

Again, the responses didn't come overnight, but I was learning to not lose heart.  When a signature is required, people deserve time.  They also need a safe place to ask hard questions, listen to honest answers, and encourage each other ... a "greenhouse" where they can watch the conversation grow.

In paradox, social media became this greenhouse.  I set up a closed Facebook support group called “Wait a Bit Kansas City,” where parents could come and consider what it might look like to delay smartphones for children.  In under two months, more than 900 people have joined the conversation, completely dispelling the dark cloud that enveloped me those months when I imagined that I was alone.  And out of this greenhouse, vibrant conversations are growing strong roots.  School communities are rallying.  Hope is thriving. 

And emails are arriving.   You know, the ones announcing that our signatures have become an "active pledge." 

Friend, while we can hope that someday this will be an issue of the past, right now the weight of it all is resting on our shoulders, and the struggle to freely talk about it can be real. I share this with you because I want you to know that if you are scared to sign the pledge, or even to have this conversation, it's okay. If you are overwhelmed by the growing mountain of information about the dangers of technology, you aren't alone. If you are convinced that black holes do exist for families who delay giving their children smartphones, I get that--and many others do too.

Come to the table anyway. Or the front porch. Or the carpool line.  Grab a friend, and have the Wait Until 8th conversation for your kids.  Your community.  Your self. Turn down the world's insistent message of fear, and surround yourself with voices of hope.  Dust off your old posture of reaching up and out for help.  And let your kids see you do it, so that someday when they are facing black holes of their own, they will know how to look up--not down--for answers.

Join the Wait Until 8th conversation.   Maybe it won't go anywhere.  But maybe seeing if it does will be the best adventure ever.   Even more exciting, perhaps, than a good old-fashioned game of Twister.

Krista Boan's passion for the next generation is an extension of her background as a middle school teacher.  She earned bachelor's degrees in English and Psychology at the University of Kansas, and her Masters in Education at Rockhurst University.   She loves encouraging and empowering local communities to link arms for the good of our kids--our future leaders.  She lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Scott, and their four children.