If you haven't had the sex talk, your child isn't ready for a smartphone.

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By: Brooke Shannon

When should I give my child a smartphone? It’s a good question. And a hard one to answer because there are so many considerations. Age. Maturity. Social skills. And more. But before parents grapple with those complexities, there is a threshold question that must be asked. Have I talked with my child about hard things? Things that make even the best mom or dad feel nervous, awkward, and ill equipped. Every parent knows about these things. We fear them.

Have I talked to my child about sex and pornography? If your answer is no because your child is too young, then guess what? Your child is too young for a smartphone. Having multiple conversations with your kid about sex is a must before you permit a device that likely will expose your child to sexual content. It is so important for your child to learn from you what sex is.

The average age a child is exposed to pornography is 11 years old. The pinup girls of the 80s are a far cry from the graphic, and often sadistic, pornography of today, which can forever change how your child views sex and the opposite gender.

Teach your children to be on guard for pornography and equip them with steps to take when they encounter it. Reassure them they can talk to you about anything they see on a phone, tablet or computer. Stress to them they will not be in trouble. Establish yourself as the answer center on the issue. If you don’t, your child will be at the mercy of a Google search.

Have I talked to my child about sexting? Your child needs to know first and foremost that sexting is sending sexual messages and nude photos to someone. Also, it is important for your family to understand sexting is common. According to a study by Pediatrics, one in five kids between the ages of 10 and 15 are sexting.  The survey showed that those who reported receiving a sext, were six times more likely to report being sexually active than children who hadn't received a sext.

You must teach your kid once an inappropriate image or message is sent, it can never be taken back. One careless sext message can haunt your child for years if it is forwarded to many people or posted on a website.  If you don’t think your child is old enough to talk to about sexting, then hit the pause button on the smartphone decision.

Have I talked with my child about sexual predators and sex trafficking?  Parents must inform their kids about the potential to encounter dangerous people online.  A child needs to know people online sometimes pretend to be someone they are not.

Predators pose as tweens and teens on social media pages. It is easy for them to connect with kids and groom them. They flatter them with compliments and tell them what they want to hear until trust is built. Then the predators manipulate the child to send naked pictures and coax them to meet in person. In some extreme cases, the child becomes a victim of sex trafficking.

According to an ABC report, “one in five kids aged 10 to 17 reported they had received unwanted sexual solicitations online, ranging from sexually suggestive comments to strangers asking them to meet them in the real world for sex.”

We must equip our children with safety precautions and the reason behind them. It is easy to tell them what not to do – don’t friend someone you don’t know on social media, never post your phone number online, don’t give your address or location out on social media, etc. The hard part is sharing with them why. Telling them there are true monsters out who sexually abuse kids and even entrap children to profit from their bodies is not a conversation many of us are clamoring to have. If your child does not know that sexual predators are lurking, targeting and grooming kids, then your child is not ready for a smartphone.

Have I talked to my child about cyber bullying and suicide?  The most common medium used for cyber bullying is the smartphone.  Nearly 43% of children have been bullied online. Only one in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse.

Parents, talk to your children about what cyber-bullying is, what to do if it happens to them, and why it is so harmful to inflict on someone else.  You also must tackle the hard subject of suicide in this talk. Your child needs to be prepared with what to do if a friend threatens suicide. Kids need to know that it is never ok to encourage people to hurt themselves even if you were “just kidding.”

According to the CDC, suicide rate hit a 40-year high for teenage girls in 2015 and suicide rates for teen boys rose by 30 percent.  For girls between 10 and 14 years old, suicide has tripled over the past 15 years.  So many of our children are struggling with mental health issues, and permitting unfettered access to a smartphone only exacerbates the crisis.  If your child is not ready for this mature talk, delay the smartphone.

Have I talked to my child about body image? There is extreme pressure for our girls and boys to have perfect bodies.  Girls struggle with not being thin enough and boys feel subpar because they are not bulging with muscles.  Access to smartphones compounds this pressure with a never-ending feed of beautiful bodies for our kids to worship and strive to be like.

According to a Time magazine article,  “there is evidence linking social media use to body image concerns, dieting, body surveillance, a drive for thinness and self-objectification in adolescents.”

Unhealthy body images can lead to eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and even suicide. If your child is struggling with his or her body image, consider a basic flip phone instead of a smartphone.

Have you checked these boxes already? If so, stay tuned for next week's Wait Until 8th post . We will look at some other considerations to think through before you give your child a smartphone.

Parenting in this rapidly changing digital age is hard and time consuming. It requires us to talk about scary and mature topics. As much as we don’t want to dive into the murky waters of the deep end with our kids, we must or they will drown because we never taught them how to swim.

Brooke Shannon lives in Austin with her husband and three daughters. She is the founder of the Wait Until 8th pledge. The pledge empowers parents to delay the smartphone for their children until at least 8th grade. Join more than 16,000 parents in saying yes to waiting on the smartphone by pledging today.

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