Parents empowered by 'Wait Until 8th' keeping kids smartphone-free longer

Posted at 6:43 PM, Aug 11, 2017

Erica and Constantine Chigounis' daughter, Sophia, is in 9th grade and just turned 14. For her birthday, she was given a phone.

And while it might seem that 14 is a perfectly reasonable age for children to get their first cellphone, it's no longer the norm. In fact, until Sophia received her birthday gift, she was the only one of her friends who didn't have a phone.

Her parents in Long Beach, New York, say holding out was tough.

"It would have been easier for Sophia if she hadn't been the last person in her grade to get a phone," Constantine Chigounis told ABC News. "I think she would have felt less excluded. For me, as a father, it would have reduced the conflict in my mind between her feeling socially isolated and protecting her from all of the negative effects smartphones have on young kids."

It's the threat of social isolation, it seems, that motivates parents to give their kids a smartphone even if they feel the child is not quite ready. That pressure led one mom to create a now-national movement, Wait Until 8th, in which parents sign a pledge to not get their child a smartphone before 8th grade.

Brooke Shannon, founder of Wait Until 8th, told ABC News that in Austin, Texas, where she lives, there is "mounting pressure" to give children their own smartphone at a young age.

"We started seeing children as young as 1st and 2nd grade coming to school, play dates and birthday parties with the latest iPhone. As we started to ask around, many parents said they eventually caved on the smartphone because 'everyone had them' and they did not want their child to feel left out," Shannon said.

Still, there were many parents who preferred to wait. So, the idea came for these parents to rally together and start a pledge.

"Our hope is to create a support network for those parents who would like to wait on giving their child a phone," Shannon said.

Here's how it works: A pledge becomes active when 10 or more families sign it from the same grade at a school.

It's designed this way, Shannon said, so there's no fear of being the only parent to sign.

The pledge is for smartphones only. Parents who want to wait on a smartphone but will allow their child to have a basic phone that just calls and texts can sign the pledge. The organization sees basic phones as free of many of the distractions and dangers of the smartphone.

Wait Until 8th wants to "let kids be kids a little longer." This was certainly the motivation of the Chigounis family, as well as a desire to keep Sophia safe.

"The main motivations for holding out were the addictive nature of the phones and the inappropriate texting, pictures and situations that occur with phones today," Erica Chigounis said. "We didn't want her exposed to those things until she was older." Cyberbullying was also a concern.

Holding out was not without its bumps. When Sophia's friends wanted to reach her, they had to go through her mom. And, Erica Chigounis admits, there were a "handful of times" she wished Sophia had a phone to tell her mom she had missed the bus or was staying late at school.

But the family feels the positive far outweighs any inconvenience. "She reads more, still plays with Legos and is more active and imaginative than I think she would be if she were immersed in a virtual relationship with a screen," her dad said.

About 1,300 families with children in more than 400 schools in 43 states have already signed the pledge in the few months since the movement began, according to Wait Until 8th.

Even with the support offered by the new group, some parents don't think they can wait until 8th grade to give their child a smartphone.

Simma Levine of New York City has a 9-year-old daughter and doesn't think she'll wait. "I wish I could make a movement with the parents at her school to hold out, but many of them have older siblings which makes it even trickier," she told ABC News. Her daughter currently uses an old iPhone of her husband's for things like and Roblox.

As for Sophia Chigounis, she's enjoying her new phone, even though her parents had to search far and wide for a phone that makes calls, emails and texts but has no internet plan. She's also not allowed to have it in her room or overnight.

The family hasn't signed any formal pledge, but they plan to have the same rules with their other two children.

"I would hold out longer, if possible," Constantine Chigounis said. "In fact if there were a large contingent of people waiting until 8th grade, I might have held out until 10th."