At least 12 members of the Class of 2027 will not have smartphones until eighth grade thanks to their parents having joined more than 3,800 families in over 600 schools across the country in signing the Wait Until 8th pledge.
Established last March by a group of elementary school mothers in Austin, Texas, the Wait Until 8th pledge aims to relieve parents and children alike from the pressures and associated risks of smartphone ownership by delaying possesion of them, until eighth grade, according to its website.
The site enumerates pressures and risks, including unrealistic social expectations to own a device, exposure to inappropriate content, and cyber bullying. The site also cites that 42 percent of children online have been exposed to pornography, and nearly 43 percent of youths have been abused online, with only one in 10 of these victims notifying a parent.
In order to sign the pledge, parents must list their names and their child’s name, grade, school, and future middle school through an online form. Once the pledge activates after a minimum of 10 families within the child’s grade pledge as well, an email is sent to all participating parents in the school’s grade.
Rachel Hanselman ’89 P’27 spearheaded the pledge at the Lower School (LS) after hearing about it through a friend who is living in Sudbury and leading the charge at another school.
Upon learning of Wait Until 8th, Ms. Hanselman was immediately intrigued, she said.
“I really dislike the way smartphones distract us from living in the moment and connecting with peers face-to-face, which I believe is the beauty and joy of the childhood and tween years,” she said. “Unplugging and being home with your family is such an important part of the day. The need to obsessively check in to see what your friends are doing detracts from this time.”
After discussing the pledge with other parents and receiving positive feedback and interest, she sent an email to around 20 families—either friends or others she believed would be interested—with a link to the Wait Until 8th website and encouraged them to sign the pledge. So far, 12 families in the third grade have signed the pledge.
Ashley Schafer P’27 said she signed so that her son, Linus, has the chance to develop his identity without feeling compelled to design or craft it for a screen image.
“I’m not a Luddite—on the contrary, I believe the technological revolution that has happened in my lifetime has been instrumental in increasing our understanding of difference in ethnicity, culture, politics, gender identity and religion,” she said. “But it’s been divisive, too.”
Susan Brown P’27 also signed the pledge for her daughter, Maddie, who was opposed to the pledge at first.
“Now I am okay with [the pledge] because a lot of my friends’ moms signed it, so we will all have to wait until the eighth grade to get smartphones,” Maddie said. “I do think it’s silly when kids text a friend who is sitting right next to them instead of speaking, so I guess I will be talking to my friends face-to-face more.”
At the Upper School, Charlotte Gifford ’19 said she received her smartphone in seventh grade and would only be able to live without it in a world where no one else had one, either.
“It is hard for me to go a day without using it,” she said.
Abigail Rabieh ’21 said she has an LG Xpression 2 sliding phone that can text, call, and take pictures. She often finds it difficult to connect to others without a smartphone—not surpising, as children are spending anywhere from three to seven hours daily on technology, according to the Wait Until 8th Website. Overall, she is grateful not to have one, though.
“When I’m on the train or in the car with my family, we make conversation because I can’t get distracted,” Abigail said. “It forces me to be more social.”
Middle School (MS) Counselor Stephanie Haug also expressed support for the idea behind the pledge.
“I find at this age kids are trying to figure out who they are so much, and some of that is trial and error, and with smartphones there isn’t a lot of grace and forgiveness for making a mistake, such as misspeaking or committing a fashion faux pas,” she said. “Everything gets documented, and I think that makes it hard to grow.”
Starting this school year, the MS has required students to lock their phones in personal cubbies upon arrival to school and not retrieve them until the end of the day. The motivation for this policy was to limit distractions during school, Ms. Haug said.
LS Counselor Sophia Culpepper said that seeing experts in technology limit smartphone usage with their own children is compelling. Without smartphones, she added, children are able to use their imagination, daydream, and be bored, all of which she values.
“What worries me is some of this emerging research about brain development—how addictive some of this technology can be for the developing brain and for grown-ups, too,” she said.
Students as young as fourth graders own smartphones, she observed, adding, “Childhood goes by really quickly, so why not prolong this aspect of life without having a phone?”