Family Setup Good Idea?

@dearsmartphone
(this is not a picture of the actual watch)

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I’d like to give my eight year old more independence since he stays indoors all day for home-schooling. But, I also think he is too young to get his own phone. If he goes on his bike or walks to the nearby store I want to know he gets there safely and does not get into trouble. There are not many kids his age in our neighborhood  to hang out with so I worry when he is out and about.  Kelly, Tiburon

Dear Kelly: It’s funny how we now conflate independence with phones.  There are probably less dangers out there than you imagine, but it comes back to your son and his level of maturity.  Back in 2011, a Mom/journalist in NYC started a movement called “free range kids.” The idea is that kids are allowed to play outside or go alone on short trips alone so they learn to be creative and self-sufficient and solve problems if they arise. The founders stress that this is not the same  as “Permissive Parenting.”

Optimized for Kids and…

Depending how you feel about phones and the cost of adding a new phone line, there is a tech solution. Apple just introduced a gadget  called “Family Setup.” It’s is a phone- watch Apple says that is optimized for younger children and seniors!  If you want to know your son’s whereabouts, or grandma’s, that will display on your iphone map. You can  also call or text them from your phone. That sounds like it would do the job.

 Apple’s Family Setup is not the first device to provide a geofence and parental controls (see link for Android) but it will give you more features. The promo material says you can send cash via Apple Pay, so imagine sending your son to the store to pick up a few things on your shopping list! Maybe, have him bring back a newspaper or magazine- something to read together! Or use the feature to set a weekly allowance, and track how it is allocated.

Exercising Choices!

Since children are spending so much time indoors these days, you might test out the feature called the “activity center” (and let me know if it works). It’s like a Fitbit that tracks exercise routines. It then digitally lauds the effort with emoji coaching and milestones.  Since your son is at home and missing recess he might enjoy this.  On the other hand, will he exercise for the intrinsic satisfaction of keeping fit or as a token to share with friends? If the latter, it may unwittingly progress into oversharing on social media at a very young age.

There are pros and cons to Family Setup.  Until we all got smartphones, reaching the teen years meant becoming increasingly self reliant and self-contained, the concept of the ‘free range-kids.’  I honestly don’t know if our connected devices will help parents or  undermine the core values they need to teach. And, will kids who get these watches soon pine for full phones instead?  Finally, our relationships are so fragile these days, so what will happen  if the “family” splits- is it just Mom or just Dad or Grandpa that becomes the watch-keeper? 

Kids Use Ipad in Car?

Long car trip, many miles to go
with 1 dog and 2 kids..should we bring out the Ipads?

Are we there yet? Displayed in text as a green road sign. There are puffy white clouds in the background.
It’s a sign of a long trip. Are we there yet?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: We have a long cross-country trip ahead of us. We have two kids and one dog.  Our dog can’t get on the airplane, so we decided to take him with us. I think it is OK to let the children have their own Ipad in the car to watch a kid’s show or play games. My wife says I am taking the easy way out and we should not allow them to have the Ipads. What would you do?  The children, by the way, are ages eight and four.  Max, Boston.

Dear Max: You asked me what I would do- seriously, I would fly, but then there’s the dog, and keeping the family Covid safe. It’s good that you and your spouse are having this discussion about digital media before you set out. 

It is hard to peer out of the back-seat window for days on end. But, it’s also hard to drive with noisy, restless kids. Perhaps download a number of family-oriented books-on-tapes before you go. That way, as you drive, you can share the content together. If you give them Ipads, it is one-on-one media. You lose the ability to talk together and bring an adult view to the kid content. 

Let’s Get Bored!

But, importantly, do not underestimate the power of kids getting bored. Each person has to solve it individually and learn that feeling bored is normal. It can also become the gateway to creative thinking and focus. There is so much media to entertain young children today (and keep them quiet) that we overlook the value of downtime. A noted clinical psychiatrist says that boredom, not mental health, is the real issue bubbling up from the pandemic. So, in these times, we need to teach children that it’s OK to be bored. The psychiatrist notes that teens seems to need more novelty and sensation seeking, and their understimulated state opens the door to recreational drugs. So, a few days in the car without the Ipad may set younger kids on a better path. 

IRL Geography

Finally, there’s real educational value in experiencing the vast expanse of this country first-hand. It’s the IRL geography class. You’ll find lots of sites online for making it useful, like this one.  I would personally stop at each state’s Welcome Center so that Fido gets to stretch his legs, and the kids get a souvenir, and pick out free brochures and maps to then study in the car. Maybe your eight year old will want to keep a diary of the trip- either digitally or on paper. The point is to experience it first, record it later, and share it together. Have a good time and drive safe. 

Invest in Stocks by Phone?

Brand new investors are using their smartphones to buy and sell stocks. What are the trade (offs).

Robinhood is a site to buy and sell stocks. Three smartphone screen shots are shown, which mimic how a real trade would take be placed.
Robinhood trading platform

Dear Ms. Smartphone: You mentioned an investment in last week’s column so I decided to write you about that. I am finding myself with a lot of time on my hands, and not a lot of cash since I was laid off from construction in March. I opened up an account with a brokerage account that trades stocks and they have a no-fee policy. So, I log in there to buy and sell stocks. My wife says I am spending too much time on my phone, but I think that I am learning something new, and hope to make some spare cash on the side.  A.J., Alameda

Dear A.J.   You are not alone as thousands of new “retail clients” (industry talk) have jumped on the trading bandwagon during this crisis. You only need a brokerage account and a smartphone to get into the market.

One reason is that without sports to wager on, bettors have turned to day trading. Both professional and recreational gamblers are now in the stock market, according to Sports Illustrated. Once these traders are able to return to their regular activities, remember a quote from the venerated investor Warren Buffett: It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.” (source: MarketWatch).

Invest in What you Know!

The other reason people are investing is that, like you, they have time, and need cash. DearSmartphone is not certified as an investment advisor, but she is on solid ground when she recommends that you do your homework, invest in companies or industries that you know something about (home builders? construction? materials?), hold a diversified portfolio and don’t put up the money you would normally use to pay the rent.

A concern, as your wife notes, is the time you amass on your phone now that you’ve become a stock trader. In recent times, but before smartphones, a stock broker (i.e. the certified investment advisor!)  would spend all day, at a desk, on a computer, following the market and individual stocks for clients. With changes in technology, everyone can now be their own stock broker, and move in-and-out of the market with lightning speed. 

The Social MediA of Wall St.

This new trading environment is volatile. It seems chaotic and it is susceptible to “fake news” and rumor. When it comes to investment tips, ads can be bought, ideas can be planted on social media or in newsletters, and CEO’s can spin speculative but hopeful stories. Any of these messages will rapidly diffuse into the larger information mainstream that investors, like yourself, tend to read or see. Those sources, not necessarily the underlying financials of the company, may swing the stock, options, and futures market up- and -down in micro-seconds. 

So, do use your smartphone to keep on top of the message stream and identify whether the sender and the story are credible (the research I mentioned). The Securities and Exchange Commission notes (2015) that social media can provide benefit for investors, but is also presents opportunities for fraudsters to engage in market manipulation or “pump and dump” schemes. It’s almost  like reading email: you are less susceptible if you know how to identify the spam and get rid of it.

As you spend more time on your phone with your stocks, I encourage you to ask if this is how you want to invest your two most precious resources: these are your time and your attention. You are channeling them to your device so make sure you enjoy the ride!