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10 Year Olds & Texting

By Amalah

Amy,

Longtime reader and seeker of advice here. I have four kids (ages 11, 9, 7, and 5). My older two kids have a LOT of friends with cellphones. Up until recently, this hasn’t been a huge issue. My kids knew we wouldn’t be getting them phones in elementary school. To be honest I was really hoping to wait until 7th or 8th grade. My kids are in a lot of activities, but if something ends early they have been happy to borrow someone else’s phone. My oldest got an iPod when he turned 10. He enjoys texting my husband and me when we aren’t home or occasionally a grandparent. He isn’t interested in texting friends and so far none of his friends are really into that. He likes looking at random things on Amazon or playing games. I don’t think he’s in a particular hurry to have a phone.

My daughter is in fourth grade. Just about all of her friends either have a phone or iPod in which they can text. She will be 10 soon and really wants an iPod. The thing is, she isn’t ready. She is incredibly sweet and sensitive. She still plays with Barbies and Legos. She adores participating in theater. A lot of her friends have changed this year and are just mean. She has a couple of friends in our neighborhood that she has grown up with. They all run around the neighborhood. When my daughter goes to some of their houses all they want to do is text other friends. They enjoy leaving my daughter out and recently started talking behind her back. This has just about crushed my daughter. We’ve been talking about it a lot and focusing on the good friends that she has.

My dilemma is what to do about the iPod. Do I get her one and then just try to help her navigate this new texting world? Do I try and explain to her that she isn’t ready? She already feels left out that she can’t text with them. We set the precedent with her brother getting one at 10, but it really is different for her. I really don’t know what the best thing to do is.

Any advice is greatly appreciated!

Best,
A

Ugh, this is such a hard call and it suuuuuuucks. I really wish parents would all collectively push back on this super-early texting culture and agree to hold off on getting elementary-aged children full-fledged phones, but alas, that’s just not reality.

With my family I am Screen Scrooge

So some personal background here: We are very (veryveryvery) strict about our children’s devices and their access to those devices. We have parental controls set up to eleventy, so we are remotely in charge of everything: from their allotted screentime to individual website access to their ability to install/download anything, even if it’s free and passes the content restrictions.

(How to do this depends on the device: we use the outstanding Microsoft Family for laptops, the excellent parental controls available on Fire Tablets, and we restrict practically everything that can get restricted on Apple products. There are also plenty of monitoring/blocking options in app form if you feel like the built-in controls aren’t enough for Apple or Android devices, which I oftentimes do.)

We get weekly activity logs from Microsoft Family emailed to us and we frequently check the other device logs so we can ensure that none of the controls have gotten turned off or messed with, and all devices get powered off and left downstairs at bedtime. They have no expectations of privacy when it comes to their online activity, and I do not feel even the tiniest bit guilty about that.

They do have Alexa devices in their rooms so they can listen to music or audiobooks at night, but again, everything gets logged and reported to us via the Alexa app and we have content restrictions in place. And if they ever need to call one of us when we’re not home they do it through Alexa as well. You can find out more about Alexa’s parental controls and the kid-friendly edition here.

Our 13-year-old is the only one who’s been given an actual, working phone (an old iPhone) to call and text with, but he’s like your son: He really only uses it for games or watching YouTube. (Which: UGH to YouTube in general right now for kids, but that’s the thing that’s inescapable for us vs. texting. We check the phone’s browser logs and app history and talk to him regularly about what he’s watching, and remind him to beware of the “related video” wormholes that can quickly take him to inappropriate content.)

So we still treat that phone more like a toy or privilege, rather than a necessity. We don’t let him take it to school unless there’s a specific schoolwork- or activity-related reason (because I know he’ll spend every bit of free time staring at it rather than interacting with his friends). The only numbers he has are ours and some family members, but he just doesn’t really understand or care about texting. And I’m honestly super grateful that we’ve been able to avoid the issue this long, and have told the younger two not to expect “real” phones until at least 7th grade as well.

In other words: We are total Screen Scrooges. BAH iHUMBUG.

You should assess what is best for your child

But we can get away with it because so far, we’re not robbing our children of some essential part of their social life and friendship circle. I am so sorry your daughter is feeling left out and getting talked about behind her back, but I suppose the real question is this: Would an iPod actually solve any of those problems, or simply allow these “friends” to extend the reach of their mean-girl behavior — right into her back pocket, 24/7, with group texts and gossip and who knows what?

I feel like giving into the peer pressure of a texting device will simply open an even bigger can of peer pressure worms, as your sweet, ultra-sensitive daughter will still struggle to “fit in” with the group.  And possibly end up either getting her feelings terribly hurt, or will attempt to mimic their gossip-y, exclusion-y ways to stay in the group chat’s good graces.

(Source: The tweenage years of this ultra-sensitive advice blogger, who also still loved Barbies and Legos and theater while all her friends were suddenly like, we’re grown-ups now and think you’re not cool, but told her the old-fashioned way, with paper notes and head games.)

You know your daughter, and you’ve said pretty emphatically that you don’t think she’s ready for any of that. And I would 100% back you up on that decision because she’s your daughter.

I mean, we all probably have at least one memory from childhood where it felt like “everybody” had a thing that we didn’t (L.A. GEAR SNEAKERS AND PIERCED EARS OMG), because our parents decided it was too expensive or we weren’t responsible/old enough. It sucks, but in this case, you’re protecting her from a potential social minefield that your gut’s telling you she’s not ready for.

Brainstorming alternatives

So instead of an iPod, is there another device she’d enjoy that just wouldn’t automatically come with texting?  Her own laptop or an iPad mini or other shiny new tablet? Or would she be okay with getting the iPod but understand you’re going to put very very firm rules and restrictions on who and how often she can text? (Both through whatever service plan you get her, and through your own monitoring of her contacts and texting activity.) She can only text parents/grandparents/her brother? Any friends must be approved by you and limited to X number of texts per day? Assume any and all texts will get read by her mother until she’s X years old and proven she’s capable of navigating this brave new texting world?

I don’t know if that would make her feel even more left out (“yeah I have an iPod but I’m not allowed to text you with it because my mom says so”) or if it would help her focus on the friendships you feel are the better influence right now. Or if you’re just better off on saying “no” outright and offering up an awesome alternative gift for this year’s birthday.

I don’t know the right answer here, and I wish I did. Commenters? Any other insights/ideas/suggestions?

(I also wish we could go back to the old days when iPods PLAYED MUSIC AND THAT WAS IT.)

Photo source: Depositphotos/Syda_Productions

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Kit
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Kit

Nothing earth shattering to add, except I agree with Amy. Follow your gut here – she’s not ready and being able to text won’t help her be “better” friends with the little girls who can. Is she too young to discuss the benefits of not texting? IE – we are a no or almost no device house for children, and we’ve said that time is better spent playing and hanging out than sitting around texting, and we do our best to model that behavior (tough to do with two parents who work in tech and are primarily remote workers so… Read more »

Emily
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Emily

I’m probably more on the younger side of the crowd here, having grown up with Sidekicks and Nextels (rip Nextel walkie-talkie-phone-hybrid), but I personally don’t think you’re doing her any real favors here by keeping her from an ipod. I totally understand the concerns, and the honestly frightening cyber-bullying reality of the world today, but Amy said it herself… bullying and excluding and tween-drama has ALWAYS happened, just in a different form. I think the better approach is instead using this as an opportunity to teach safe practices. Start off by restricting the crap out of it, and as she… Read more »

Scarlet
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Scarlet

This is a really tricky part of parenting these days. I was thinking high school would be a good time for my kids to have cell phones but of course I was shocked to see all their friends with cell phones mostly starting at the age of 10. When I did get my daughter a cell phone at almost 13, she was very responsible and we discussed rules and that anything she sends out there is out there beyond her control. I do checks on her phone every so often and she understands that is part of the deal. I… Read more »

GSmith
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GSmith

We got our daughter the ugliest, most durable, very uncool smart phone when she was 11. I told her to make no mistake, this is to make MY life easier at school pick up. She only gets like 1.5 GB of data a month, so if she’s at school, it’s basically impossible for her to hit YouTube. It’s restricted to hours of use, and she is unable to send or receive photos via text. She knows there is no expectation of privacy. She hates it, and all her friends seem to have free reign. Crazy!