our oldest son was given the opportunity of a lifetime when he was chosen out of hundreds of applicants to be one of the 15 members of Microsoft’s inaugural teen council, called The Council for Digital Good. When he applied, he was a brand new teenager, just barely 13, and he wasn’t sure he stood a chance to be selected, because he had to answer the question about what his life was like online…
“Mom, I have NO life online!”
But maybe that’s part of what makes him special, with a unique perspective. He’s certainly not sheltered, but even now, at 14 (and a half, he’ll tell you), he STILL doesn’t have a smart phone or social media. And it’s not solely because mom and dad are holding the reins. He’s actually CHOSEN to wait patiently for these things, recognizing the distraction and risk they can present.
Our son’s 16 months on The Council for Digital Good has been an invaluable introduction to some of the topics around online safety that are affecting his generation the most. He’s been able to interact with kids from all over the U.S., some of whom are tremendous leaders, and all with varying perspectives and values. These students have both challenged as well as solidified our son’s own core beliefs about how his own choices online will shape his future and the future of those he has influence over.
When each council member was asked to contribute a one-point platform to the group’s collective manifesto, we were surprised and proud that our son chose this message: WAIT for social media until you are at least 13 or older. This is a message we have been sharing with parents for years, and of course we’ve talked about it hundreds of times in our own home. Delaying access to social media and smart phones until kids are mature enough to withstand the risks is a foundational key to help protect kids online. Our son has known our stance on the issue, but he’s finally started to embrace that stance as wisdom and is walking it out without regret. (One huge supportive factor: none of his closest friends have social media or smart phones… it has helped tremendously! We are living the best-scenario reality that the Wait Until 8th campaign is fighting to create.)
One of the most rewarding things for us as parents has been seeing our son start to contribute to our efforts at Parents Who Fight in a more “official” way. He’s come with us to many of our parent workshops to share first-hand how waiting for a smart phone and social media has become an actual benefit to his life. He’s also seen the drama that pre-teens and tweens have ended up in when they get on social media before they meet the minimum age restriction of 13. The response from parents to our son’s viewpoint has been incredibly positive! One parent even asked him to share his story in a quick video she could show her 9-year-old son.
Next week, the Council for Digital Good has one of their final events, a presentation to industry leaders and policymakers in Washington D.C.. Our son will be able to meet and interact with people who are doing great work to make the Internet safer, and people who have great influence to affect change and improve digital civility. He will also share about the ways he’s been spreading and supporting the message of WAITING, and what a positive impact this message has had on his own life. We can’t say enough about how meaningful it is to see him step into these opportunities and walk in his calling as a leader. He may be just one voice, but he is a mighty echo of great truth that many have sown into his life.
“Boundaries begin as external limitations to freedom, and through enforcement, are internalized as wisdom by a child.” – Boundaries for Kids, by Townsend & Cloud