Sag Harbor Parents Hope Others Will “Wait Until 8th”

Parents gathered in a classroom at the Sag Harbor Elementary School to talk about the "Wait Until 8th" program. Michael Heller photos.

Childhood is too short to waste on a smartphone — and that is the message that was delivered to parents at Sag Harbor Elementary School last Thursday, during a PTA-sponsored discussion on the “Wait Until 8th”pledge, a national movement aimed at encouraging parents not to allow their children to have smartphones or access to social media until they are in the eighth grade.

Sag Harbor Elementary School art teacher Gary Osborne and parent Traci Robinson are spearheading the “Wait Until 8th” movement locally, with members of the PTA agreeing to host the first of what is anticipated will be monthly sessions in Mr. Osborne’s classroom at the elementary school.

The coalition will focus on smartphone use, educating children on how to navigate social media, technology management for families and children and creating a support system for those families agreeing to sign the pledge and “Wait Until 8th” grade to give their children smartphones.

The “Wait Until 8th” began with a few parents in Austin, Texas in 2017. It was a simple idea: rally together and reverse the power of peer pressure as more and more young students began to use smartphones and frequent social media. Quickly, it became a nationwide campaign, asking parents make a pledge to wait until their children were at least in the eighth grade before they had access to a smartphone. This comes as parents, and child healthcare specialists, began to see the social impact of smartphone access — including addiction, distraction, impaired sleep, depression and exposure to mature and inappropriate content.

Teacher Gary Osborne helped lead the talk on holding off on child smartphone use and social media exposure.

Mr. Osborne recently watched a webinar that focused on a pre-teen girl and her social media usage. He shared the story with the group. Every Friday night, the girl would get dressed up and do her makeup. She’d post pictures to her Instagram to show her followers that she had an interesting life. After posting the picture, she’d take the makeup off, put pajamas on, and go to sleep. She couldn’t bare going to school on Monday without showing people her exciting life on social media.

“Why do we need our children to feel like they need to present this image that is not really who they are?” Mr. Osborne asked.

In many ways, said Mr. Osbborne at Thursday’s session — the session was meant to build a community of support between like-minded parents, where children can meet other peers without the pressure of not having a smartphone or free rein on the internet or on social media.

Traci Robinson is one of the parents urging others to “Wait Until 8th” in Sag Harbor.

“It’s learning how to build a community of parents that can support each other’s values,” Mr. Osborne said.

“Playing outdoors, spending time with friends, reading books and hanging out with family is happening a lot less to make room for hours of Snap Chatting, Instagramming, and catching up on You Tube,” Ms. Robinson stressed to an audience of over 20 concerned parents, whose children, some as young as eight, are asking when they’re getting a smartphone.

She added that studies show that children are spending anywhere between three to 7 hours daily in front of a screen, pushing aside traditional childhood amusements for online scrolling.

Ms. Robinson cited reports from a study by the National Institute of Health, revealing that MRI’s found significant differences in the brains of children who use smartphones, tablets, and video games for more than seven hours a day. The children tested who spent various amounts of time on smart devices were found to have “premature thinning of the cortex,” the outermost layer of the brain that processes information from the five senses.

“Elementary and middle school years establish the foundation for our child’s academic success,” said Ms. Robinson.

Smartphones impair sleep, she added, noting students are waking up and looking for texts and likes and updates.

Juli Everett said her eight-year-old son has been begging for a smartphone for the last year.

“He wants one because he sees us on ours,” Ms. Everett said.

She said that she believes smartphones and social media for young children causes un-needed stress and anxiety, not to mention, a distraction if brought to school. While often useful, Ms. Everett said she was also concerned because there are not a lot of guidelines for children. Ultimately, she said, the responsibility rests in the hands of parents.

She said although technology has made great strides, and the smartphone is a useful tool, there are not a lot of guidelines for children.

Ms. Everett said halting children from receiving smartphones at young ages should start with the parents.

“We have to say no. They’re not going to have it,” she said. “It’s not the teachers’ responsibilities to take our kids phones away. It’s our responsibility to not give them phones in the first place.”

Kristen Dehler’s third grade son started asking for a smartphone this year and her fifth grade son believes that at fifth grade graduation, all of the students are gifted smartphones by their parents as a rite of passage into the middle school. Other parents in the group with fifth graders said their children felt the same way about graduation and receiving a phone.

Many parents in the group stressed that bullying no longer happens solely in the hallways or at recess. With social media and smart devices, cyber-bullying is rampant and does not end with the close of the school day.

“I think the big deal about this is that their brains are still developing,” Ms. Dehler said.

“The social media, constant Snap Chats and texting is what causes the anxiety and the increase in depression. All of the studies are telling us this,” she added.

But there is conflict, noted Ms. Dehler, in telling a child they cannot have a smartphone, when all of their friends already have them.

“They’re going to wonder why they’re the only ones [without phones]. It’s important that we do something and the adults in the room support them,” she said.

And that was a main concern for many parents: not to have their child feel alienated under the weight of peer pressure to have access to a smartphone or social media.

“We have to build tools and support within the group,” Mr. Osborne said, encouraging the parents to take the pledge and support to one another.

As an alternative, parents agree that a basic phone, such as a flip phone, might be appropriate, as it avoids the distraction and dangers of a smartphone, and allows the child to still have a way to contact their parents or friends if needed.

When ten families have signed the pledge in the Sag Harbor School District, parents will be notified that the pledge is in effect.

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