When Should Kids Get Their First Phone?

“But mummy, some of my classmates already have their own phone” *cue whiny sound by my 2nd-grader* 

He’s made friends with children from the neighbourhood, some of whom are 4th and 5th graders. They play games like Roblox and Rules of Survival. These are games which I personally feel are not meant for 1st and 2nd graders at all. But unfortunately, because of peer influence, both my 2nd and 1st graders are in fact playing (and are addicted to) these games.

My 4-year-old on the other hand, has shifted his addiction from Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom Youtube episodes to Slither.io (some snake game). The addiction to screen time in our house is getting out of hand and it often ends up in meltdowns and children blaming us parents for their bad mood.

I mean, why do we still let them have screen time if we know it always ends up with 3 cranky tearful boys? I can’t answer that question myself.

And mind you, they are using our devices. They don’t have their own devices yet. And at this point, they clearly cannot keep to the agreed screen time (30 minutes each time, twice a week) without some form of unhappiness when they have to give back their devices.

I have 2 big questions that I’m still searching some answers to.

  1. Should I still let my children have screen time? And why?
  2. When should they have their own phones?

These are questions that modern parents are grappling with, without any definite answer. To each his own.

What are the reasons we (i.e. my husband and I) want our children to have screen time?

  • We feel that the world is evolving. We can’t run away from screens and the penetration it has and will have in our children’s lives. We don’t want to “deprive” our children of things that other children have access to.
  • We ourselves use screen a lot at home, whether it be for checking emails, browsing social media or just surfing the net. It would be hypocritical of us to prohibit our children from using screens while we can hardly pull our own eyes away from our own devices.
  • A little leisure time on the screen won’t hurt, or so we thought.
  • If they are able to keep screen time within the limits we set, we feel it is alright.

What are some of the challenges we face when we allow our children to have screen time?

  • While we do not mind them playing games, we would also like them to go to websites to read articles for general knowledge or watch educational videos for kids. But every time they get their hands on the screen, it’s always games games games. Even when we suggest they visit certain kids website (which are fun, mind you), they expressed no interest whatsoever.
  • As mentioned above, the games they like to play might not be suitable for their age. The content, the people in the game who might be adults using foul language in the game chat, etc. These are the things that concern us.

  • The addiction they have towards screen time and the negative effect it has on their creativity and the reduction in the ability to regulate their emotions is worrisome. They feel bored more easily and often ask for screen even though they know it is not their screen day. (We only let them use screen twice a week and 30 minutes each time). But they will whine for the screen all week round and say they’re bored and that nothing else is fun. That is so sad. Just sad.

Why do kids enjoy screen time so much?

  • Games are purposely designed by their developers to be addictive so that players return to the game again and again and find it hard to stop playing. This is so that they can make more money from in-app purchases or in-game advertisements. Our children fall victim to the nature of the games.

  • It’s one of the easiest and fastest way to have fun. They don’t even need a friend. They just need a device in their hands.
  • They like the challenges they have to tackle in the online games and truth be told, it’s not easy to find that kind of challenge in real life. So kids these days turn to games to try things out fearlessly.
  • My boys get excited to play their games because they make appointments, yes they do – i’m not joking, with their friends to be online at a certain time, in a certain game and on a certain server so they can play together. I mean, these kids are all in their own rooms yet they are “playing” together. They don’t need to wait for mom and dad to ferry them to a friend’s house in order to play together.

So, having touched on the above points, when should they have their own phones? 

It’s not an easy question to answer. There are a lot of questions running through my mind even before I can answer that question.

  1. Are they mature enough to regulate their own phone usage and spend only an appropriate amount of time on the screen?
  2. At what age am I comfortable for them to have access to an ocean of crazy information and videos out there?
    1. Information that is not true,
    2. information that is totally useless,
    3. information that is too traumatising,
    4. information that is not age-appropriate,
    5. how about cyber-bullies? When will they be mature enough to handle the negative emotional reactions that come with being bullied online?
  3. If I wait too long to give them their phone, how do I contact them when I need to? Perhaps, a simple nokia 3310 will do the trick.
  4. But if I wait too long to give them their own smartphone, how do they stay in touch with their peers when they have no access to social media or WhatsApp? Will they feel left out? Will they be at a disadvantage when it comes to making friends?

The obvious answer to one question may contradict the answer for another question. That’s why it is so hard for most parents to come to a decision when it comes to screen time and when to give their children the autonomy of owning their own phone. To each his own.

For me, at this point, here is my stand (but it may change as our family evolves):

  • I would want my children to have minimum screen time per week (desirably less than 3 hours per week as long as they are under 11 years old) as I really believe in the benefits of spending time outside, exploring creativity and art, reading or just simply being bored.
  • To think that my children can have access to the things we can find on the Internet scares me. I mean, I had full access to the Internet approximately when around 16-17 years old. I believe I was mature enough to know right from wrong (although not 100% so), what information I should seek, what I should trust or ignore online. I can’t imagine my children having these abilities at a younger age. It would be horrifying for a 10-year-old to watch videos about UFO sightings, alien presence, the Earth is flat theory and all sort of bullshit (pardon my language). What would become of their knowledge? It would be so messed up. They won’t know what’s fact or fiction. It would be terrifying just to think about it. This might be the main reason I will prolong giving them their first phone.
  • But what about their social life? This is tough. No-one wants their child to feel left out. And these days social media form a big part of kids and teenagers’ lives. They literally “live” in social media. They interact through text messages, see each other on instagram and snapchat. What happens if my boys do not have access to any of these? Will they have friends? I don’t know my stand on this. It’s a tough decision.

Where do you stand as a parent? I would like to hear your opinion on this matter. Are you less worried? Or do you belong to the group that is deeply concerned? Let me know in the comments section 🙂 I’ll be looking forward to reading all your comments.

Till next week,

Lili is a wife and a mum to 3 boys. An aspiring writer. Adores creativity, art and beautiful creations. Dog lover. Gentle-parenting follower. Follow her parenting journey at http://www.happywehappyfamily.com where she writes about family happiness and how to stay connected to our spouse and kids.


For further reading you can read the following articles:

It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies

Dopamine: the cause of digital addiction?

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Responsible Parenting: Create Memories, Not Expectations

“The paradox is that more than anything in our lives we want our children to be happy. We fear judgement, we fear disappointment, we fear failure so much that we have become constantly worried and stressed as parents…”

“Without noticing, we transfer all these expectations that we have on our children.”

“It takes guts to be acceptive of who your child is, to be at peace, to let go.” 

This article is going to revolve around the TEDx Talk by Austeja Landsbergiene, and the words above are spoken during her talk. She spoke to my heart. She woke me up. Most importantly, she opened my eyes to see what I should stop doing to avoid being the parent I do not wish to be.

Sometimes we think we know what we want for our children, but it’s very difficult to know for sure how we are supposed to parent in order to give our children what they need.

It’s a complex question that all of us parents are still learning every day to find the perfect answer to, which I believe is impossible by the way. There is no perfect way to parent your children. But there’s a way that will ensure we raise secure and happy children.

As parents, we do many things because we are concerned and conscious of what others will think of us. But we have to ask ourselves the following questions:

“What kind of memories do I want to create for my child, at home, in school and everywhere?

Is our parenting founded on kindness and generosity?

Is our parenting founded on criticism and hostility?

What is our habit of mind?

What are we looking for?

Are we looking at the things that we can appreciate? Or are we looking for mistakes?”

When we tell our children to stay home and study hard instead of allowing them to go watch their favourite basketball match, whose expectations are we trying to meet? It is our expectation that our children do well in their studies, but it is the kids’ expectation to watch that basketball match.

Austeja Landsbergiene suggests that we parent out of kindness. And everything will follow suit.

Kindness makes our children feel loved.

My First Favourite Video of 2018 – MUST WATCH!!!

I’ve been a parent for almost 8 years and I still dare not say I know what I’m doing. Coz the truth is I don’t! Parenting is a constant trial and error process until they leave home! God knows, we will still trial and error with our grandkids…

We parent different ways, but it’s becoming more and more common that we’re setting our kids up for tough competition in the “real world”. Most parents want their children to have the best opportunities presented to them, be selected by top universities and land a good-paying job. The problem is that it’s every parent’s dream, which in turn, makes the competition even tougher. Everyone is grooming their kids, I should too! That’s the mentality in the developed world these days. And who is taking the brunt of all this? You got that right. The kids. Our kids.

I came across this video last night and I immediately thought of you guys! I know you are always on your toes, wanting to do your best for your child. Julie Lythcott-Haims, an academic and author of How to Raise an Adult just rocked my world last night. I kept asking myself why I hadn’t seen this video sooner! Why hasn’t this talk received millions of views? She definitely deserves to be heard! So here I am, sharing my first best 15 minutes of 2018 with you. I hope you liked the video as much as I did.

So what were my favourite parts?

We expect our kids to perform at a level of perfection we were never asked to perform at ourselves.

This, up there, I can’t agree more. Spot on!

And in the check-listed childhood, we say we just want them to be happy,but when they come home from school,what we ask about all too often first is their homework and their grades.And they see in our faces that our approval, that our love,that their very worth,comes from A’s.

And she ended her talk with a powerful bang.

 But I’ve come to realize, after working with thousands of other people’s kids — and raising two kids of my own, my kids aren’t bonsai trees. They’re wildflowers of an unknown genus and species — and it’s my job to provide a nourishing environment, to strengthen them through chores and to love them so they can love others and receive love and the college, the major, the career, that’s up to them. My job is not to make them become what I would have them become, but to support them in becoming their glorious selves.

Parents, I can’t tell you how much I love this lady’s talk. It is such a good reminder for me as I raise my own 3 boys that they need other things in their lives such as love, play and responsibilities and not only academic results.

What was your favourite part of this talk? Share in the comment section and let’s talk!

A Story About A Boy Who Was Gone Too Soon – An Open Plea to All Parents in Singapore

Photo from http://www.lifetimeofclicksphotography.com

One beautiful day, a baby was born. He was the pride and joy of everyone in his family: his parents, his siblings, his grandparents, his aunts and uncles. Everyone doted on him, took care of him, made sure his food was clean and baby-proofed the house. They kept him warm in the cold and kept him cool in the heat. They held his hand while he learnt to walk. They gave him encouragement when he fell. Most importantly, they allowed him to fall without making him feel guilty of not being able to do so. Many parents understand that babies grow at their own pace and so they let their babies grow at their own pace. 

Gradually the baby grew into a toddler. More was expected of the baby. He was to follow certain social etiquettes and behave in “appropriate” ways like greeting adults when they meet, saying thank you when receiving a gift or learning that hitting other people is not allowed etc. On top of the character development, the little toddler was also sent to enrichment classes like baby gyms or playgroups in the hope to have him stimulated and “not lose out” to his peers of the same age.

It was now time to be a preschooler. N1 to K2. This is the period when this little boy had more things added into his daily schedule. Apart from the full day childcare, he was also being sent to enrichment classes for Math and Mother Tongue because his parents felt that it was necessary in order for him to “survive” Primary School when he finally enters Primary 1. However, he also had fun visiting the zoo and bird park. It as a good time to be alive. His parents sent him to places like Kidzania and Fidgets. The boy enjoyed his childhood. He felt loved. 

Then came primary school. Everything seemed a little harder for him. He now had less play and more work. Things were no longer fun. There were lots of paper for him to deal with. Homework never seemed to end. Even the school holidays were lined up with enrichment classes. There was no time for a break. There was no time to be a child. He felt exhausted. 

Exam results seemed to him like it was the most important thing in his life, especially so when he was in Primary 6, the year he had to sit for the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE). He felt like his parents really wanted him to do well. He felt like that was all they cared about. He felt alone. But he persevered on anyway.

In his dreams, at night, in his own room, the boy often hear his parents talk about music, the only thing that he was interested in. In his dream, his parents were fully supportive, they sat down and listened to him sing his heart out. The smiles on their faces and the encouragement they gave him, telling him how good he is capable of being if he does what he loved.

But when he woke, reality sank in. His parents never liked him to waste time singing. They said he wouldn’t be able to make a living. He didn’t understand. If someone could not make a living out of singing, how can there be music and songs in the world for people to enjoy now? He didn’t understand his parents. 

On he went to Secondary School. The first two years were a good break, especially after having studied so hard for PSLE. When Secondary 3 came, he began to feel the stress and pressure once more. This time, it was ten-fold the pressure he felt in Primary 6.

Everyone was talking about Junior College, University and overseas studies. His parents threatened him that he had to do well enough to get into a JC, if not he will end up with low-paying jobs. The boy was scared. What ever happened to the belief that every child grows at his own pace? He was scared to disappoint his parents. He was scared to face the future if he performed poorly for his ‘O’ Levels. It was as if his ‘O’ Level results will determine the rest of his life. It was a big burden for a 15 year old to carry on his own shoulder. It was so heavy.

Slowly the boy withdrew from his friends. He talked less to his family. He was in his own world, trying his best to do well. He studied day and night, sometimes without breaks. He was determined to “make it”. 

He did his best during the ‘O’ Level exams. Yet, he couldn’t help but feel nervous. It was going to be a long few weeks to wait for the piece of paper that he studied so hard for. He felt himself almost having a nervous breakdown. But no, he couldn’t let his friends or family see through. He had to “act” normal. He had to hide the fear and anxiety deep down. Only he could know that he was scared to death. 

He couldn’t keep still. He was almost shivering. The only way to calm himself down was to keep rubbing his palms together, shaking his legs as he sat there in the hall waiting for his name to be called and receive that fateful piece of paper: the ‘O’ Level Result Slip.

He saw it. It was what he had expected. He didn’t do well enough. With those grades he wouldn’t be able to get into a JC. He felt sore. He felt giddy. He felt like a failure. Most importantly, he couldn’t swallow his guilt that he had failed his parents. His heart started beating uncontrollably fast. He didn’t know what was happening. His mind was a whirlwind. He couldn’t hear anything else in the hall. It was as if he had floated away from his surroundings.

It was 4 hours before he had to face his parents. There were 15 missed calls from his father and mother and a dozen more text messages. They were curious to know how he had done for his exam. But no, he will not respond to any of them. He was not ready to face the music. Now he had to consider his options. What was he to do? How could he escape his plight?

Alas, he had come to a decision.

One that there was no turning back.

One that left a deep hole in his family’s hearts.

One that he regretted as he was falling….

***********

Parents. How would you feel if this was a story about your child?

Parents. Do know that your child will do well when he can.

Parents. Life is more than the letters on the result slip.

Parents. You are the only support your child has.

Please do not be the source of their fear.

Let us help one another build a society that values relationship more than results.

Let us help one another raise children to be resilient yet know that there’s always another road.

Let us help our kids understand that effort is not always correlated to outcomes. Things happen.

Let us show to our children that there are many people in the world who lead a good life regardless of their academic results.

Can we all do this together as a nation, parents? It is my plea to you.

One life lost is too much a loss.

According to the suicide prevention agency SOS, suicides of Singapore teens, aged between 13 to 19, reached the highest in 15 years in 2016. There were 13 reported teenager suicides in 2014, the figure doubled to 27 in 2015.

We do not want this to happen ever again. Not to your child. Not to my child. Not to ANY child.

Let’s work together as a nation to achieve a ZERO suicide rate for students.

We can do it.

***********

If you are feeling suicidal, there are many people waiting to listen to you. Your privacy will be safeguarded. Below are the numbers you can call to seek help.

Samaritans of Singapore (24-hour hotline): 1800-221-4444

Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019

Care Corner Counselling Centre (in Mandarin): 1800-353-5800

Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222

Aware Helpline: 1800-774-5935

Author: 

Lili is a wife and a mum to 3 boys. An aspiring writer. Adores creativity, art and beautiful creations. Dog lover. Gentle-parenting follower. Follow her on Facebook where she shares articles about family happiness and how to stay connected to our spouse and kids.

15 Must-Ask Questions For Your Kid’s First Day Of School

Well well, that time of the year is coming. First day of school! For many of us, it’s a return to normal schedule (like me!). For some of us though, it’s a new schedule as they have a child starting his or her first day of school ever!

Whether your child is going to P1 or moving from P3 to P4, first days of school still gives that jittery excitement to their little hearts and sweaty palms. Some kids will look forward to school, some will dread going back and some will just be anxious about the whole schooling thing, after all, nothing could beat being comfortable at home during the school holidays with no schedule to follow whatsoever.

How many of us are guilty of asking “How was your first day of school?” and then we run out of questions to show our kids that we’re indeed interested to hear more about their day but we just don’t know how to ask! Lucky for you I’ve come up with a list of 15 questions you could ask your kids on their first day of school and make them feel that their school life matters to you, especially that first day back to school!

For all kids:

  1. Who are you sitting next to this year? What do you like about him/her?
  2. Was there a first-day assembly? What did they talk about?
  3. What was the most fun part of today?
  4. Who are your new teachers? What are they like?
  5. Tell me something funny that happened today.

For RETURNING students:

  1. Who grew tall the most over the holiday break?
  2. Did anyone have a different haircut?
  3. What was the first recess food you bought for the year? Did you miss it so much during the holidays?
  4. Who did you play with during recess? What games did you play?
  5. Give me one reason why you’re so glad school has resumed!

For Primary 1 Newbies:

  1. How many students are there in your class?
  2. Did you buy any food during recess? Was it nice? Are you going to buy it again next time? Great job for buying your own food, you’re a big girl/boy now!
  3. Who did you play with during recess? Good job for making new friends!
  4. What food are you going to buy during recess tomorrow?
  5. What kind of bags do your classmates have? Did anyone have a similar bag to yours?

Of course you can choose to ask these questions on different occasions. Bombarding the kids with 10-15 questions all at once will feel more like an interrogation rather than feeling your interest!

Remember, the objective of communicating with your kids about school is to

  • show them that you are interested in their day
  • encourage them to look forward to another day at school (especially for P1 kids or the anxious ones) by asking questions about what they’re going to do “tomorrow” etc

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Jurong Central Park – A Gem in the West!

We live near Jurong Central Park but we don’t go there often enough. It’s such a well structured park! Bonus is that it has a field that you can play soccer and some paths for your kids to ride their wheelie vehicles like scooter and bikes!

Our boys’ favourite was of course the “Slide of Ahhhh!” that’s how we would name it lol… It’s so much fun. They went again and again and again! You can see from the pictures below how much fun they had =)

The big boys can go by themselves but they wanted to sit on daddy for added-weight. The heavier, the faster… you know? haha…

And there’s also slides that are friendlier to younger children:

There’s an interesting climbing structure as well:

One or two balancing beams!

And…… a Flying Fox! Yay!

Have I mentioned the human-size Snakes and Ladders Board? With actual slides being the snake! It’s super fun! Play as a whole family!

To see how fun it is, check out our 2-minute family video:

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The 5 Most Important Money Lessons To Teach Your Kids

What our kids think about money:

When I said we didn’t have enough money to buy a toy that he wanted, my 3-year-old suggested I go to the bank and withdraw more money.

When my 5-year-old took loose change from the table-top to buy a can of soft drink, he said the money was his because he “found it”.

My 7-year-old asked why the government won’t simply print more money. Well, isn’t it a bit early for a lesson in Economics, son?

Why Kids Need To Know Real Lessons About Money:

  • Set expectations. When they know where money comes from, they stop expecting you to buy everything at their request.
  • Clear understanding leads to better cooperation. At least the kids will be on the same page as you when it comes to money, how it’s earned and how it should be managed.
  • The earlier they start, the earlier their finances are safe. When they know how to earn, manage and multiply their money, it gets easier with time.
  • Habit starts now. We instil the habit of brushing teeth in our kids because we know dental health is important for them. The same goes for money. How they view and spend money now will most likely influence how they view and spend money when they’re grown ups.

What Kids Need to Know About Money

1. Goods and Services Cost Money

When my eldest son was 6 years old, he asked me why we needed money to “buy” things. It was questionable to him that we can’t just take whatever we want without having to pay for it. So that’s when our lessons about money started. Below is how I answered my son’s question:

Why we pay using money

At the very beginning, people exchanged goods e.g. a farmer with an orange plantation can exchange 5 oranges for 5 apples with a farmer with an apple orchard. But what if the apple farmer doesn’t want oranges but bananas instead? It was going to be too cumbersome for the orange farmer to exchange his orange for bananas then exchange those bananas for the apples he want. That is why people came up with something they agreed could be used to exchange for any good they want. That’s how money was created.

Some things are affordable, while some are not.

In our house, our children learn, from a very young age of 3 years old, that we need to pay for the things that we want to own and activities that we want do. My current 3-year-old always ask “Mummy, what’s the price of this [item]?” and when I tell him the price, it will always be followed by this question “Is it expensive or cheap?”. Oh my dear Louis. You’ve learnt before turning 4 that we need to consider the cost of the things we want to buy. We’re so proud of you baby!

2. Money is Earned

The number one thing our kids thank their father for is “for going to work to earn money so we can buy food and the things we need”. It appears in their birthday cards for their daddy, father’s day cards and even a random thank you card. I suppose we have done a pretty good job in teaching them that money needs to be earned, in exchange for time and skill, that money does not simply come unlimited. This is so important because they need to know that they will have to earn their own money when they grow up, instead of expecting to have it handed to them.

3. They Need to Make Choices (Opportunity Costs)

My husband is good at this one. He often compares the price of a toy to that of one McDonald’s $1 ice-cream cone. When we bought a pair of shoes that cost $50 for one of the boys, my husband told them that the same amount of money could have been used to buy 50 ice-cream cones! This type of comparison comes up often in our day-to-day life so the kids understand that in every choice that we make, we forego something else that we could have otherwise gotten.

Other times we present a problem for them e.g. With $X they can either buy 1 of item A or 3 of item B, which one would they prefer? This is a good way for the kids to process in their thoughts what exactly they value more. Is it having one of item A or more of item B?

When they’re given the chance to actively make choices about their purchase, they become conscious about the concept of money.

4. Money Needs to be Managed

There are 3 things that we need to do with the money that we have: Spend, Save and Invest. The earlier we make this concept known to children, the better they get at managing their money as they grow up.

So our eldest has been wanting an Xbox for over a year. It’s only now that we told him he will have to save $1 each day from his pocket money and buy the Xbox at the end of the year. We also asked our 5-year-old (turning 6 soon) to save $1 a day to pay for his new bicycle. The point is to teach them how to save & wait. Because that’s what must be done when they turn into adults. Can’t run away from that fact, might as well get them used to the harsh reality early!

Investing is something you can introduce to children older than 10 years old. It involves research, comparison, decision-making and waiting. Skills that need long term commitment and practice.

5. Money Can Be Given Without Getting Anything in Return

Lastly, we can show our kids that money can be donated for a good cause. It is not necessary to keep all the money we have to ourselves. If we have extra, it’s oddly satisfying to give to charity or a cause we believe in.