PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Wait Until 8th. It’s a parental pledge sweeping the nation urging parents and guardians to delay handing a smartphone to their kids until 8th grade.

A 2019 survey shows by 11-years-old, more than half of kids across the nation have smartphones. The report was released by Common Sense Census. It’s a nonprofit geared toward improving the lives of kids in the 21st century.

Why Wait? A Texas-based pledge, now sweeping the U.S., encouraging parents to wait until at least 8th grade to hand over smartphones to their kids.

“Kids are spending anywhere between three and eight hours a day on media consumption,” said Executive Director & Founder of Wait Until 8th, Brooke Shannon. “They’re Snapchatting. They’re Instagramming. They’re YouTubing. They’re scrolling. They’re really missing out on being a kid.”

Wait Until 8th claims smart devices are an academic distraction, can expose kids to explicit or sexual content, and can also increase the risk of anxiety or depression.

“Research shows that children are able to handle some of these stickier topics the older they get,” said Shannon. “These kids are not ready to navigate the murky waters of the digital arena and it comes with exposure to sexual content or possible predators. It’s really hard for young children to be online on these phones on these different platforms and navigate it when they’re not developmentally ready.”

In central Illinois, a child and adolescent psychiatrist for UnityPoint Health – UnityPlace said the brains’ of tweens and teens are still developing.

“It’s really really important to know that it’s more than just having a smartphone,” said Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist with UnityPoint Health – UnityPlace, Dr. Keila Sierra-Cintron. “Children are developing their brains. So, we’re talking about this access to smartphones that sometimes is even unsupervised. It affects dependency on phones and the potential for that psychological dependence, chronic sleep deprivation because we hear kids chatting with their friends on Snapchat all night long. Having difficulties with learning and their academic performance. So, the later we delay [smartphones] the easier it will be for children to develop study habits, sleep routines that are not necessarily impaired by the smartphone.”

Dr. Sierra-Cintron backs Wait Until 8th’s claim that iPads and tablets aren’t the same as smartphones.

“I think that there’s a difference also between having a smartphone and having a tablet,” said Dr. Sierra-Cintron. “You can allow your child to have access to child-appropriate electronics, but I think that time limitation is a big big big thing and not an indefinite use of devices.”

In Eureka, for the Hermacinski family, parents Kathleen and Cass said it’s a delicate balance between maturity and responsibility.

“It’s hard to quantify it based on a grade,” said Kathleen Hermacinski. “I think that everyone is different. Every child is different and mature at different rates, so for us, I think we will decide based on our needs.”

“I understand from like a safety perspective why people would want to give their children phones,” said Cass Hermacinski. “We’re also cognizant of what is happening with electronic devices and what is available to everyone in this world.”

Phone retailer UScellular offers parents the ability to create a personalized parent-child agreement for safe technology use.

“This gives you an option to really create a dialogue between the parent and the child and be able to create an agreement together,” said Store Manager of UScellular on University Street, Carrie Guilliams. “I know I use it with my kiddos…and they’re young, I have a seven-year-old for instance and it’s a really great opportunity to start at that age of being able to say, ‘ok. We’re going to create lines of communication and trust at this age’ and build on that.”

UScellular also offers basic phones and plans specifically geared toward parental control over usage.

UnityPoint Health – UnityPlace provides programs specializing in addiction and mental health services.

With locations in Peoria, East Peoria, Pekin, Lincoln, and Eureka, UnityPlace is proud to offer the most comprehensive addiction and mental health services in central Illinois.

“Our compassionate treatment team is comprised of many experts in psychiatry, addiction medicine, and behavioral health to meet your wellness needs. It is our privilege to partner with you on your journey of healing.”

For information on available mental health services, contact: UnityPoint Health – UnityPlace Access Center at 1 (888) 311-0321.

For community-based crisis services, contact UnityPoint Health – UnityPlace Crisis Services, available 24/7:

  • Peoria County: (309) 671-8084
  • Tazewell & Woodford Counties: (309) 347-1148
  • For emergencies, call 911

Click through the below slideshow to read how various central Illinoisans respond to the question, “would you consider waiting until 8th grade to give your kid a smartphone? Why or why not?”

Interested in taking the Wait Until 8th pledge? It can be signed electronically. Once 10 parents have signed the pledge within your child’s grade and school district, the pledge takes effect.