Carroll County Times

Carter: Analog parenting in a digital world

When is it too soon for your children to have their own devices?

The Carroll County Board of Education heard feedback on the Bring Your Own Device program for elementary school-aged students at its meeting the other night, and BYOD was also the subject of the last question posed to candidates for the school board by Yours Truly (toot, toot) at Thursday night’s forum at the Community Media Center.


(Quick aside: In case you missed the live broadcast of the forum, I highly suggest checking out the rebroadcast on Monday, Sept. 17, on Comcast channels 19 and 23, or watching it on-demand online. We had some really good questions submitted by the audience and thorough, informative responses from the candidates in attendance. Check listings at

Much of the candidates’ responses focused on their own personal beliefs regarding cellphone or smartphone usage by youngsters. But “devices” encompass tablets and laptops and maybe even those fancy Apple Watches I see a lot of people wearing but never really using — and yes, sadly, I’ve seen a handful of kids with these watches, too.


While we’ll probably address on these pages in the near future the Times editorial board’s thoughts on Carroll County Public Schools’ BYOD program, I’d love to hear feedback from readers on how they handle device and smartphone usage with their own children at home.

Nielsen data from 2017 shows that about 45 percent of U.S. children ages 10 to 12 had their own smartphone with a service plan. Among those surveyed, about 22 percent got their phone and plan at age 10 and — to me anyway — a shocking 16 percent got their own service plan at age 8.

Ting, which offers high-speed Internet on the Westminster fiber network, recently released results of its Digital Family Lifestyle Survey focused on parents’ concerns about kids’ phone safety. More than three-fourths of respondents said they got a cellphone for their children to use in case of emergencies.

Another 2017 report from the nonprofit Common Sense Media found that 42 percent of U.S. children age 8 and younger have their own tablet devices.

But my experience and observations tell me that there are plenty who have devices much earlier than that. Sometimes, my wife and I feel like we’re on an island because our kids, ages 7 and 5, don’t have a tablet. Heck, I don’t own a tablet. My wife bought an iPad a few years ago which, technically she says, is a “family device.” A family device, mind you, that is logged into her email, her Facebook page, her Instagram … you get the idea.

From time to time, the kiddos get to use it, but sparingly. If we’re visiting Mom-Mom’s house, for example, where the adults are watching the one television, we might let them watch a few post-dinner cartoons or a movie on Netflix. Every now and then, my wife will let them take a few selfies with silly SnapChat filters with her phone. That’s about the extent of device usage for our kids.

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Even on long car rides, we’ve managed to refrain from letting our daughters use devices to play games or watch cartoons. It’s amazing how well a child’s imagination works when you let them use it.

Meanwhile, when we’re out at the grocery store or the mall, I’ll see children about my daughters’ ages walking with Mom, their noses buried in a smartphone playing games, and lately, it seems, almost every child being pushed in a stroller has a device in their hands.


Recently, we’ve had a bit of a terse back-and-forth with my mother because, over our objections, she bought both of our girls mini-laptops. Her rationale was that they get learning time on devices at their school, which is true, but usage is limited there. My mom has a hard time saying “no” to the kiddos (which I’m pretty sure is a constitutional right of grandparents) and, to be honest, my parents aren’t computer literate enough to check email regularly, let alone supervise kids on the Internet.

As adults, we already spend so much time in front of our screens — sometimes more than one at a time. It’s not unusual for someone to have the television on in the background while alternating between working on a tablet or laptop and checking their smartphone.

Kids need to be kids, and that means going outside to play and, if you’re bored, play with one of your gajillion toys and board games, or maybe — gasp — read a book or two, with cartoons and movies sprinkled in.

Fortunately, our kids haven’t started nagging us for a tablet for their birthday or Christmas just yet. But they’ve taken notice of other kids around them that have devices, so it’s only a matter of time until the question comes. And I’m afraid our kids might be woefully disappointed.

It’s a digital world, but in this case, I’m happy to remain an analog parent.