What I Gave My Kid Instead of a Smartphone
After seeing things on social media no parent could unsee, I decided to do something about it
A year ago, I spent months undercover on the popular video-making app, Musical.ly. (It’s since been renamed TikTok.) My commitment to using the app as an engrossed child, and not a mildly interested adult, led me into a social network where kids as young as eight sexually objectify themselves. I found hundreds of self-harm videos that showed suicide options — bathtubs filling, images of blades, a child’s voice saying she didn’t want to live anymore. It only got worse from there.
Nearly every kid in my daughter’s fifth-grade class was using Musical.ly to film themselves or each other. Parents insisted the app was harmless fun. (And it can be — initially.) I was prepared for my findings to be met with silence. No one will ever read this, I said to my husband as I published the resulting article, it’s way too long. Parents don’t have time to dive into this sewage. I went to bed that night acutely aware that I’d spent the last few months pushing a Sisyphean boulder up a mountain only to, probably, discover it sitting at the bottom again come morning.
Wow. Was I ever wrong. Not only did parents dive into the sewage with me, they continue to sort through it even now, bringing to light things I missed a year ago. The article has now been read and shared by millions of people across the globe. The lesson I learned? Don’t do nothing just because you can’t do everything.
Since publication, the question I’m most often asked is: Did you buckle under pressure and give your daughter a smartphone for middle school, or did you strap some old soup cans to her body and tell her to shake wildly if she needs to reach you? The answer: I bought her a Gizmo Gadget watch. I call her, she calls me. I can text and send reminders from my smartphone to her watch, for which I pay a monthly fee of $5. She can text back limited characters. She can also leave me voice messages, which she sometimes does in whisper-screams from school: “You packed me apples again! Everyone else gets Doritos. This needs to STOP!”
Don’t do nothing just because you can’t do everything.