Social media expert rejects ‘Wait Until 8th’ campaign: ‘Can’t rely on a rhyme to parent’

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Social media expert rejects ‘Wait Until 8th’ campaign: ‘Can’t rely on a rhyme to parent’

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Parents and lawmakers are navigating how to best protect young Americans from the dangers of smartphones and social media. One popular pledge is to wait to give kids smartphones until eighth grade, but a social media expert is warning “there could not possibly be a worse time for social media exposure in a child’s life.”

“It is not scientifically a good thing to do or, medically speaking, a good thing to do to give your child a phone in eighth grade. The risks do not outweigh the benefits,” ScreenStrong founder Melanie Hempe told Fox News Digital. 

“We cannot afford to keep getting this wrong. This is not cute. It is not to be taken so lightly. It is serious, and we should not rely on a rhyme to parent our kids.”

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Wait Until 8th is a growing movement among parents and communities across the U.S. where participants pledge to “delay giving children a smartphone until at least the end of 8th grade.”

As the U.S. faces its “greatest adolescent mental health crisis,” Hempe, who is also a registered nurse, emphasized that eighth grade is not ideal for introducing smartphones and social media. 

“The emperor doesn’t have any clothes and eighth grade is not smart for smartphones.” – Melanie Hempe, ScreenStrong founder

First, there is a “mismatch” in brain development for students in the eighth grade age window. 

“The accelerator is working before the brakes,” Hempe said. “And what this means is they are taking higher risk before the frontal cortex, the judgment center of their brain, is developed. So their emotion center is developing before the frontal cortex or the reasoning center.”

Another reason for Hempe’s concerns is changes in search habits and content engagement. 

“By eighth grade they are searching for content that is more provocative,” she said. “They’re searching for content like anxiety and depression and mental health diagnoses because all their friends have one, so they’re trying to figure out what theirs is. And then the algorithms kick in and they get exposed to the worst content at the most vulnerable stage and impressionable stage of their development.”

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Hempe also observed that young adults between 14 and 18-years-old are peaking in sexual interest and are more prone to addictive behaviors. 

Perhaps most concerning is the alarming rise in suicide and suicide attempts. According to CDC data, suicide is the third leading cause of death among high school students. 

CDC data also shows 9th and 10th grade students are more likely to consider attempting suicide than 12th graders.  

“Suicide interest in attempts are peaking, addictions are peaking and forming, the brain becomes what it does. So the teenage brain is the most susceptible to addiction. We know that 90% of all adult addictions start in adolescence,” Hempe said. “Just because your child is intelligent doesn’t mean they’re mature enough to handle or wise enough to handle a smartphone.”

“We are giving our kids one of the highest dopaminergic devices during the most vulnerable stages of development when their guard is the lowest and the most harm can be done.”

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Given the research, Hempe rejected the “Wait Until 8th” pledge, highlighting eighth grade is the gateway to a season where kids are most at risk.

Wait Until 8th responded to the criticism by saying the pledge is to help encourage communities to delay giving kids smartphones, asserting families can choose to wait longer.

“Most families are saying yes to the smartphone in 4th or 5th grade and a majority of children are on social media by 6th grade. By signing the pledge and rallying your community to sign too, you are giving your child four more years free of the distractions and dangers that come with a smartphone,” Wait Until Eighth founder Brooke Shannon said in a statement to Fox News Digital.  

“If families want to wait even longer that is wonderful. The pledge is really a goal post to rally your community around. There is strength in numbers!”

The solution to America’s youth mental health crisis, Hempe argued, is to delay introducing smartphones through high school.

“We have to hit the pause button. We have to put a one in front of that eight and make it 18. We need to understand that 48 months of high school is such a short amount of time to give your kids a big advantage mentally, physically, emotionally and actually socially. We’ve got to save them from the trauma and the scars and possibly even save their lives.”

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Hempe recommended parents and young adults get educated through various resources, including offerings through ScreenStrong like the “Kids’ Brains and Screens” course. She also urged parents look past “blind spots” and find a community of like-minded individuals to give kids a “healthy teenage experience.”

“The emperor doesn’t have any clothes and eighth grade is not smart for smartphones. We need to stand up for our teens so we can win the screen battle in this country,” Hempe said.

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