Jesse Weinberger has heard things that would floor even the most switched-on parent.
“Sexting is beginning pretty pervasively in the fourth to fifth grade. Porn consumption now begins at eight years old. Porn addiction begins at 11 years old,” Weinberger said.
The Ohio-based internet safety instructor has gathered that data during presentations to more than 70,000 students across the United States. She adds the trends she’s seeing transcend geography, socioeconomic conditions and cultures and that no one should be surprised.
“When you give your child a smartphone, you are giving them the keys to the kingdom. You’re giving them the keys to reach anything that exists in the internet,” Weinberger said. “While we are hopefully pretty measured in our decisions of where our children go physically…we may think nothing of allowing the entire universe into your child’s bedroom or into your child’s life without even realizing or understanding what the consequences are.”
That’s why Weinberger said kids aren’t ready to own a device until high school. In the United States, that’s 14 years old.
“The pre-frontal cortex isn’t really done developing in a human until around 25 years old and that’s the part of the brain that gives you things like impulse control and executive function which kids don’t have until much, much later,” Weinberger said.
“So it shouldn’t surprise any of us that kids do things like take a picture of their junk and send it to 85 of their friends because that’s what someone without any impulse control is going to do when they live in an environment where that’s sort of the new normal. Not acceptable, but the new normal.”
Eleven-year-old Sarah Toews said about half of the students in her class at her Edmonton elementary school own a smartphone. Her parents are considering purchasing one for her because she is babysitting kids outside of the home.
“Of course some people don’t have landlines anymore so that was a concern to me – communication – now that she’s working in other residences,” Alanna Toews said. “My husband is opposed to it so we will just continue the discussion.”
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Weinberger said if you want your child to have a phone out of safety concerns, get them a flip phone without data.
“A lot of parents either don’t want to think about this or sort of do the ‘la,la,la – I’m not listening’ but it’s really their job entirely to monitor, limit and consequence.”
She said it isn’t the responsibility of app developers or schools, it’s parents’.
“You have to be a parent and if you’re not willing to do that then don’t be surprised by the outcome because the outcomes are not going to be so great,” Weinberger said. “The person raising your child actually is going to be whatever cohort they are part of online….the parenting piece is huge.”