CRANFORD, NJ – Cranford’s Pam Boccia is bringing the “Wait Until 8th” movement to the area with a new support group, “Wait a Bit Cranford Area.”

Wait Until 8th” offers resources to parents who would like to delay and monitor smartphone use for their children until at least eighth grade. The group asks parents to sign a pledge agreeing to wait until at least eighth grade to give their children smartphones.

Boccia, a Cranford mother and a high school teacher, has witnessed her students be negatively affected by smart phones, she said.

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“I see more and more kids struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, and students talk to me openly about the pressure they feel to keep up with social media apps such as Snapchat,” Boccia said. “They know being a teenager is harder and ironically, less social, than ever before.  Also, parents themselves are weary of policing their kids and battling over screens. It seems as though life grows more difficult and complicated with each added screen.”

Boccia has data to support her stance. In a 2017 study by the Association of Psychological Science, researchers found that adolescents who spent more time on new media were more likely to report mental health issues than adolescents who spend more time on non-screen activities.

“Parents of elementary kids often site safety as a reason for purchasing a smartphone for their child,” Boccia said. “However, there are flip phones, ‘dumb’ phones, and GPS watches to keep in touch and keep track of kids. These may not be cool, but they may keep our children safer, and healthier, in the long run. If parents join together to support each other, we will have strength in numbers on our side.”

To join parents together, Boccia founded “Wait a Bit Cranford Area,” a Facebook group for parents in Cranford and surrounding towns who hope to limit smartphones and social media involvement for their kids.

“We are committed to fostering a positive and non-judgmental online conversation to empower parents to make informed choices for their children,” the group’s mission statement reads.

In the near future, Boccia hopes to work with the Cranford Public School District to find ways to reinforce the group’s message, possibly through guest speakers or stricter rules surrounding smartphones.

The Cranford High School guidance department was unable to comment at this time.

In May, Brookside Place School holds an annual “Screen Free Week” as part of a national movement to encourage children and families to turn off TV’s, tablets and video games.

“If parents see positive changes in their kids during Screen Free Week, maybe they'd be more inclined to set boundaries on screens the rest of the year, or delay smartphones altogether,” Boccia said.

So far, more than 8,000 families throughout the country have signed the “Wait Until 8th” pledge.

“There is no reason why we can't push back on the smartphone trend here in New Jersey and let kids be kids a little longer,” Boccia said.