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My 6 year old daughter asks for a smart-phone. I do not want to give her one because she might be harmed in social networks and because she might get addicted to games. Rather than just saying "no", I want to explain the rationale to her in words that she can understand, but I am not sure how to explain these concepts:

  • How can I explain the "risk of being harmed in a social network" when this whole network is virtual - there is no physical contact?
  • How can I explain "addiction" or "risk of getting addicted"?
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  • 15
    Just as food for thought, in case you haven't thought about this yet: A smart phone does not automatically mean access to social networks and/or unlimited game time. The ones I'm familiar with have an optional "kids mode" pre-installed, allowing you to fine-tune what apps she can use and how long she can play games each day. In other words: Depending on why exactly she wants a smart phone, you might be able to find a solution that works for both of you.
    – Heinzi
    Jun 16 at 19:58
  • I'd also question what your daughter will do with the smart phone and where it will be used. My eight-year-old son has just inherited my old one, which he uses in the house, when supervised by us, and only for a small amount of the day, to video-chat with friends.
    – user25730
    Jun 16 at 23:42
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    Whatever explanation you choose, consider it in relation to your own smartphone use. In your family, are phones banned during meals? Do you have conversations on the phone when you should be talking to your daughter? The best way of making her not want a phone might be to do lots of fun things together that don't require either of you to have a phone. Jun 17 at 9:28
  • 4
    This reminded me of the video of 6 year old Irish girl complaining about not being able to go to the pub.
    – wha7ever
    Jun 17 at 17:15

5 Answers 5

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Explaining a virtual world where dangers exist to a 6 year old will require a lot of comparisons to dangers in the real world. A critical part of shielding her from those dangers is limiting and monitoring her use of the device. So the easiest explanation might simply be that for her safety, you must use the phone with her, and you don’t have the time to do that yet.

That doesn’t get you off the hook completely, though, as you still need to discuss dangers with her, and she might feel unimportant that you don’t have time to do something she would find enjoyable.

Strangers on the internet: If she understands what strangers are in real life (most young kids don’t), then get on the internet with her. Go to any social site with a lot of users and log on. Tell her roughly how many visitors/users that site has per day. Then you might ask her if she thinks you’re friends with all of those users. Listening to her answers may help you assess her understanding of the internet and help you to teach her about strangers on the internet. When that’s settled, look at some profiles. Ask her if she would want a stranger to know that about her. Again, the concept of stranger here is critical to understand, so her answers will be a guide for you. If she’s unconcerned, that’s a whole new conversation, an extension of that about strangers in real life.

Bullying is something most kids understand. You might want her to know that bullying can also occur on the internet on social media platforms and has caused a lot of sadness in many kids. That might be better saved for a few years, though.

Addictive behavior may be easier to explain. Pleasure is something we all want to feel. Ice cream is great, but what would happen if you ate ice cream several times a day? Again, her answers can be a guide for you.

Addiction is compulsive behavior that interferes with our lives, or more simply something we find pleasant when we do it but that is hard to stop. If she gets used to this, getting to eat ice cream several times a day, even if she’s getting, say, cavities, or can’t fit into her favorite clothes, would she really stop if the ice cream was still there? Odds are, no. Explain that she might always be thinking about it, and those thoughts would interfere with her finding pleasure in other things. Tell her that even adults can’t stop; that’s why they smoke when it’s bad for them. When they try to stop, all they can think about is how much they want “one more” cigarette. That’s addiction. If she were on the internet all the time, what other things would she miss out on? Why are those other things important?

You limited your question to those specific issues, but another issue I’d be concerned about is manufacturers’ use of attractive content to prey on the desires of young people for goods or services. But that might be a question for another day.

Edited to answer question in comments.

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  • Thanks! Regarding the second issue: it is relatively easy to understand that eating too much ice-cream is not good, but the more difficult concept is addiction - the fact that you might be unable to stop eating even though you know it is not good for you. How can I explain this? Jun 17 at 7:07
  • @ErelSegal-Halevi Good question! Edited my answer.
    – anongoodnurse
    Jun 17 at 14:09
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I think an important element to this is not just to answer the question with why, which is well covered in @anongoodnurse's answer, but to also explain when.

When will it be okay to have a smartphone? What things need to happen before they get one? In particular, what things in their control, versus out of their control?

For example, you may have an arbitrary age - "When you're 13" - which is a thing out of their control. If that's the case, then let them know - that way they don't keep asking until then. (Not that they won't still ask, but at least you have a goal to point to.).

However, you may have a level of maturity, also. If that's the case, then let them know that. "When you've shown me you can handle it" isn't the right answer, though - think just like as if you're a supervisor delivering a performance review at work, give them "SMART" goals. Specific, measurable, actionable, reasonable, and time-bound (or whatever your preferred backronym meanings are).

Tell her that you need to see specific things - you need to see her getting her homework done, her chores done, etc.; you need to see a level of independence that justifies needing a smartphone, such as being able to go to friends' houses on her own, which involves showing she can handle herself safely on the street, navigate using a map, that sort of thing. Whatever the things are that you think are important for showing she is mature enough to have, and/or need, a phone.

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    These are all good points, so +1. I, too, think 6 is much too young to have a smart phone, but that wasn’t the question. :)
    – anongoodnurse
    Jun 16 at 18:08
  • @anongoodnurse: Even at a later age it's complicated. I know a young girl who got borderline depressive after being bullied on social networks by her "friends" from school when she was in middle school. As a teen, she would have been considered mature enough for many things, but bullying is hard to stomach, and her parents took time to notice. Internet is a harsh world. Jun 19 at 16:33
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6 years old is quite young to have a cell-phone. Plus, you shouldn't really say "no" to your daughter's face without explanation (other answers already explained this). Providing a good explanation to a young child to ensure she develops the right way of thinking when it comes to addiction. Since your daughter is still 6, you might want to wait a few more years (obviously), but I believe she does not understand a lot about smart-phones yet, and thinks it is a cool "gadget". But of course, attractive websites and everything on the internet will attract people's attention and you do not want that to happen to your daughter. Having maturity before using your phone is quite important, lest you get addicted and drift away into the internet. You can use the system of do-reward method, where you ask your daughter to complete e.g. chores/homework before giving her e.g. TV time/ipad time. She also needs to show how she is capable of using it, and especially being responsible enough to not lose the phone easily and not lend it to strangers easily.

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Kids, especially that young, often want to do things based on what they see their parents and other adults doing. I don't know how often you or other adults in her life use their smart phone in front of her but if you make an intentional effort to not use it in front of her except for the occasional necessary phone call, etc then she will likely stop asking for one, especially if that means extra attention from you.

I'm not trying to cast any shade here on any habits you may or may not have - this is a personal struggle for me as well. However it is always important to consider what we are modeling to our kids and how that reflects in their behavior. Its just part of growing together with your kids. For example, if you want your kids to read more but you never read yourself and you never read to them, they will most likely not read more.

If we don't address root causes/desires, any explanation of why a child shouldn't do something will fall flat.

So in short, minimize the desire for and modeling of cell phone usage the smart-phone and you don't need to explain why she is not ready for it yet.

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  • Does this actually answer the question? An edit to include an actual answer is appropriate. Thanks.
    – anongoodnurse
    Jun 17 at 14:11
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    Yes it does. I added a summary to clarify.
    – Rozgonyi
    Jun 17 at 14:16
  • Age six is in many (most?) areas school age. At that developmental phase, I don't think parental modeling is enough to eliminate interest, because there will also be information from peers. So I think you are incorrect that modeling the behavior you want to see will remove the need to explain. Jun 17 at 17:03
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    This is the right answer. If you want the kids not to use smart phones, put them away until they are asleep.
    – axsvl77
    Jun 18 at 2:39
  • Influence from peers is clearly a possibility at that age but parent influence is still there and something you can have control over, unlike peers. I also wonder if many 6 year olds are able to bring phones to school, etc as much as an 11+ year old. So peer influence in this topic at this age is likely less.
    – Rozgonyi
    Jun 19 at 0:09
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How to explain to a 6 years old why a smart-phone is not good for her?

You might try to compare its usage to sweets/chocolate. While she might understand that unlimited consumption of that is not healthy, she has a limited understanding exactly why consuming sweets/chocolate is bad. You as an adult have a much better understanding.

And in the same way, she has a limited understanding what the negative effects of using a smart-phone is, while you as an adult know of some.

And by all means let her in on some of it. Like for instance is a game designed to be boring or extremely difficult with the default free or standard equipment, so that you more or less have to supply with in-game purchases to enjoy the game? Is the game designed to trick people into buying stuff without making clear that they are charged for it?

Why is a game "free"? Is it intended to be an entry point for getting you to pay for something? Or is it simply free because the developer(s) made it for fun and chose to give it away as an open source game? The latter is probably less likely unless you explicitly look for those (but please do).

And just as the options for sweets are not just only unlimited or none, maybe you could let her use your phone for a limited time at certain days? Maybe you can steer it towards doing things together during this time, e.g. playing a game together or similar.


Regarding the first example I am so sure I watched a video by Hbomberguy where he showed an example of a online game that had some "live concert" type event with some reasonable famous artist, playing in the game, where Harris commented that the concert fan experience was very limited without buying additional physical moves. But skimming through all his videos I did not find it again.

Hm, some more searching I found what I was looking for, it was made by Dan Olson, not Hbomberguy. The video talks about the (deliberate) strong buy-extra-pressure at 17 and a half minute in.

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