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Should we wait until eighth grade to give kids phones?

  • Madeline Skawski, a junior at Smith Academy in Hatfield, talks about how she feels about the pledge of Wait Until 8th, a program advocating to not get children phones until eighth grade. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Madeline Skawski, a junior at Smith Academy in Hatfield, talks about how she feels about the pledge of Wait Until 8th, a program advocating to not get children phones until eighth grade. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michaela Schwartz, an account executive with Marketing Doctor, interviews Karlie Guimond, a Smith Academy student, for a film about the pledge of Wait Until 8th. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Madeline Skawski, a junior at Smith Academy in Hatfield, talks about how she feels about the pledge of Wait Until 8th, a program advocating to not get children smartphones until eighth grade. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Carrie Hennessy, a parent of a kindergartner at Hatfield Elementary, talks bout why she joined the pledge of Wait Until 8th, a program advocating to not get children phones until 8th grade. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Daniel Cavanaugh,16, a student at Smith Academy in Hatfield, talks about how he feels about the pledge of Wait Until 8th, a program advocating to not get children phones until 8th grade. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Daniel Cavanaugh, 16, a student at Smith Academy in Hatfield, talks about how he feels about the pledge of Wait Until 8th. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Carrie Hennessy, a parent of a kindergartener at Hatfield Elementary, talks bout why she joined the pledge of Wait Until 8th, a program advocating to not get children phones until 8th grade. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/10/2019 11:37:52 PM

HATFIELD — Maddy Skawski, a junior at Smith Academy, got her first cellphone in seventh grade. At first, she was just using it for texting and calling.

“Then everyone was like, ‘I have an Instagram, you should follow me,’” she recalled. So she did. Now, like many of her peers, she uses photo-sharing platforms Snapchat and Instagram.

The teenager said there are some problems on the apps. “The body image thing is definitely an issue,” she said, referring to a flood of photos of models or celebrities that can be altered.

“Younger girls think that’s something they have to fulfill,” she said.

That’s one issue tied to smartphones that a new Hatfield Public Schools campaign aims to address. The district is encouraging parents to take a pledge that says they will wait until their children are in at least eighth grade to get smartphones.

To promote the message, they are filming interviews with students like Skawski, along with parents, teachers, the Hatfield Police and the district attorney.

Last September at a community forum, the district showed “Screenagers,” a documentary about young people in the digital age. Then, the Hatfield School Council approached administrators about the “Wait Until 8th” pledge. “Wait Until 8th” is a national organization that encourages parents to hold off on giving children smartphones until they enter eighth grade.

Superintendent John Robert liked the pitch.

Marketing Doctor, a marketing agency based in Northampton, offered to film and edit video interviews for the campaign pro bono and Robert said it will be posted on Facebook as part of their campaign.

In school, Robert said he’s seen the issue. “I see it at lunch sometimes where everyone is looking at a screen,” he said.

“I’ve been in education for over 30 years,” Robert said, “and I think it’s pretty obvious what impacts it’s had.”

He worries about bullying, and that it’s harder to escape in a digital world. “Years ago, you could leave school,” he said. “Now it’s 24/7, and this stuff can continue … When it occurs online it’s very difficult for the school to track it or to even be aware of it.”

Screens, he thinks, lead young people to lose out on connecting with people in real life. “I think there’s a lot lost when you don’t have that interpersonal, face-to-face connection,” Robert said. “They’re losing their pragmatic skills, their interpersonal skills. I think it’s helping to create students that are going to become more isolated, more lonely.”

There’s some health research that lends credence to Robert’s worries. One study found that children’s screen use before bed is associated with insufficient sleep. A 2018 study published in Preventive Medicine Reports, for example, found that more screen time for young people is associated with lower psychological well-being. Young people who spent seven or more hours on screens each day were diagnosed with anxiety or depression at twice the rate of youth who spent an hour or less on devices, the study found.

Sixteen-year-old Smith Academy junior Karlie Guimond said she can understand the mental health impacts.

“I think people do see posts and think, ‘should this be what I’m doing?’” Guimond said in her on-camera interview last week. “You see the post, but you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.”

“It causes people to have less confidence in themselves,” she said.

There are upsides of the devices for Guimond — she said it has helped her learn about current events and keep in touch with friends and family who live far away.

“It’s definitely opened up the world to me,” she said.

Junior Daniel Cavanaugh said he doesn’t think too much about what he posts on platforms like Instagram, but he has some girl friends who do. There’s much more pressure on young women, he said.

“They worry about how people interact with the post, how many likes, how many comments,” he said in his video interview.

To prove his point after the interview, he asked several female classmates how many prom photos they combed through before choosing which one to post. They didn’t bother with a number — they just looked at each other and laughed.

Carrie Hennessy, a parent of a kindergartner in Hatfield schools, volunteered to be interviewed in the video.

She’s a psychologist and has concerns about how her own phone impacts her. “It’s distracting and addicting for me. It impacts my mood, my sleep ... I have concerns about (my son) having a smartphone,” she said.

When it comes to screen time for her son, she said, “my kid has already encountered peer pressure.” Specifically, he’s experienced pressure to play certain video games and fears being left out.

Skawski thinks adults will like the campaign, and she volunteered because she thinks it’s a worthwhile project. But, she conceded, “Among kids, I don’t think it’ll be that popular.”

Hennessey has a more positive outlook. She doesn’t want parents to feel judged by the campaign, but she thinks it can give them more useful information. For the campaign to be successful, she believes that many families need to participate.

“It has to be a collective effort,” she said, “like a cultural shift.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com




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