Pt1 - Smartphones for kids and teenagers - a guide for parents (Part One)
Updated: Jul 10, 2020
Parents have been given no compass, map or guidebook to navigate this technological age. However, some organisations and parent-led initiatives have taken this on to help parents make decisions about how and when to give their children or teenagers smartphones.
I have no magic solution to give you, all I can do is to share and elevate the organisations who are keeping this debate ongoing. This year I attended an enlightening conference talk by Wait until 8th Campaign, an parent-led organisation in the US encouraging parents to delay giving their children a smartphone until the eighth grade (age 12-13).
Whilst this age bracket is not the be-all and end-all of solutions, I found the talk helped me to understand what the concerns are around using smartphones, and how delaying might help parents to prepare their kids for how to responsibly use smartphones.
Here are my key takeaways from what was discussed. I appreciate this is an enormous blog post, so I have split it into 4 sections. I am reporting back on what I learned, however if you are interested in my views I have written my perspective and caveats to the advice shared below.
Part One - What's the problem?
Part Two - What can parents do to set boundaries?
Part Three - Q&A of relevant questions.
Part Four - My own perspective and caveats.
PART ONE - What's the problem? What are the concerns with children having their own smartphones?
The potential negative impacts of constant device usage raised by the speakers were;
Negative impact on concentration, school work, and academic success. One of the critical points raised emphasised that smartphones offer a distraction to children in a learning environment, but also that their use may negatively impact brain development. Examples of studies given include one by the National Institute of Health which show children who spent more than two hours a day looking at a screen got lower scores on thinking and language tests.
Supporting studies in the conference are linked below:
Reading social cues. Humans are naturally drawn to faces, and most are born with the instinct to read facial expressions to tell whether we are socially accepted or rejected, in danger, have upset someone or are found attractive by someone.
We don’t yet know the impact on younger brains where technology has replaced real faces in-person and up close, with smiling profile pictures frozen in one expression, how the other person is responding to reading our instant text message, which all limit our ability to read social cues face-to-face.
Ghosting instead of learning to say “I’d prefer to just be friends” or “I felt hurt when you...” “Ghosting” is the process of talking to someone less and less over technology, or suddenly not speaking to them at all. For a generation who communicates predominantly via text message and apps, ghosting can feel like the easy way to resolve a situation, as the ghoster doesn’t have to explain their feelings, nor listen to the other person’s side of the story and accept that they may have caused some of the hurt too. Yet the radio silence and unresolved emotions can be devastating and confusing on the receiving end.
Teens who learn to ghost their way out of conflict are not developing the skills to have uncomfortable but necessary conversations with their friends, adversaries or love interests.
Talking it out in person is most often the best way to resolve problems with others, strengthen friendships, see another’s point of view, and learn how to navigate situations like it going forward. Learning how to resolve problems face-to-face will be invaluable for a challenging work situation when ghosting isn’t an option.
Lacking confidence to problem solve. One of the panellists gave an example of her daughter forgetting her swimming kit, who had to solve the situation without the ability to text her mum on a smartphone. She approached the front desk at the YMCA to ask them whether she could use their phone to call her mum. Her mum was proud of her resourcefulness, and asking an adult to help her, all within a safe environment.
Social shyness. Socialising behind a screen,or having an instant “out” of an awkward conversation by looking down at your phone, is anecdotally making young people more uncomfortable in social situations in which there “might be awkwardness”. They are clinging to phones rather than learning how to make small talk with people they don’t know.
Mental health worsens with problematic smartphone use. A review of 23 peer-reviewed studies found a relationship between problematic smartphone use and symptoms of anxiety and depression.
*just stepping in here..! The researchers found that the effects were weak to moderate, meaning that smartphone use does not guarantee worse mental health. They also could not tell whether smartphone use causes poorer mental health, or if increased smartphone use is a symptom of having mental health problems.
Exposure to inappropriate content. The average age children are exposed to pornography is age 9. Pornography on the internet is far more graphic than any magazines that parents might have been exposed to in their own childhood.
Privacy and photographs of children. Smartphones have cameras and social media often encourages sharing photographs of yourself and others. Once online these photos cannot be recalled nor controlled who is accessing them.
Online grooming, catfishing and other serious crimes. For reference, “catfishing” is simply a person pretending to be someone else via the internet. It can be implemented as a way to cyberbully (a bully or group of bullies might pretend to be a love interest in order to humiliate the target, or ask for compromising photos or messages of the target). Of course this also applies to adults posing as children in order to lure children to meet up or send photos of themselves.
Cyberbullying. About one out of every four children has experienced cyber bullying, and about one out of every six children has done it to others. Only one in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse.
Continue to PART TWO - What can parents do to set appropriate boundaries?