The debate as to whether children should be allowed smartphones (or more accurately, at what age children should be allowed smartphones) has waged on for years. As with any emerging technology, the definitive impact that it has on the youngest and most impressionable in our society is yet to be fully determined, however, that hasn’t stopped a host of opinion pieces and hot takes being written on the subject. We’re taking a look at the effect smartphones are having on our younger generation and in this article, we’ll collate all the information to give a balanced perspective on whether your child should have a smartphone, looking at the pros, cons, and potential risks.
One of the biggest arguments for letting children have smartphones (even from an early age) is the increased independence that it gives them. Obviously, this has to be done within reason – no one is suggesting that giving a 4-year-old a smartphone means they’re capable of fending for themselves! However, by having an easy source of contact with your child that you wouldn’t otherwise have, it does mean that they’re able to go out with friends during the day without you worrying where they are or what time they’re coming home. Equally, where evening entertainment used to revolve around the family, children can now have their own independent space, separate from parents and siblings, where they are free to watch what they want, interact how they want, and relax how they want.
Obviously, there is some potential risks associated with this independence, such as children becoming detached from the rest of the family or watching/ playing inappropriate content on their smartphones. However, these risks can be easily averted with parental control apps and enforcement times.
It’s ridiculous to suggest that the world is somehow less safe than it was before smartphones were prevalent. In fact, with more and more children having smartphones, thus making it easier to get hold of a family member or authorities in the case of an emergency, it’s safe to assume that they’re actually better off with a mobile. This, combined with the fact that phone boxes and payphones are no longer as common as they once were, means that parents don’t have to worry as much about getting hold of their children (and vice versa) if something happens.
The counter argument to the issue of safety is that ownership of a phone opens children up to some threats that are only presented with a smartphone. For example, the threat of cyberbullying is greatly increased if children have access to the internet through their smartphones, and they’re also more at risk to online predators. While there are legitimate concerns around these topics, it’s important that parents are frank and honest with their children about the dangers of using the online features of smartphones, and educate them about how to protect themselves online.
In a child’s formative years, social interaction is essential for healthy development, and there’s been plenty of concern regarding the impact that smartphones may be having on this natural development. One of the biggest concerns, as previously stated, is that long-term exposure to a smartphone from an earlier age can have a detrimental effect on social skills and childrens’ ability to communicate ‘normally’ with one another. Whether this be an inability to communicate in a context that isn’t online, using inappropriate language in a public space, or simply not interacting at all, it’s important for parents to ensure that their children are interacting in a physical and digital context.
On the other hand, smartphones do give children the ability to remain in touch with friends and family outside of normal allotted times. For example, children can build on new friendships they’ve made in school by texting after-the-fact, helping them to interact. Equally, if you have family that live further away, a smartphone allows children to connect with relative as and when they want, be that via text, call or even video.
On top of being a useful social tool, smartphones also give young people access to a wealth of knowledge that can be very beneficial to their schooling. In fact, many schools are starting to adopt a policy of children using smartphones to enhance their learning experience, whether through something innocuous such as a calculator or for bigger research projects.
However, critics suggest that smartphones pose a big danger to the overall education of students, as they can be a source of distraction in lessons. There has been some evidence to suggest a link between smartphone use in schools and lower GCSE grades, however, this is not entirely conclusive. When considering whether your child should have a mobile phone or not, it’s important to consider how it could affect their schooling, especially as smartphones become more and more advanced.
Addiction and Mental Health
Another much-touted reason for not giving your child a mobile phone when they’re young is that it can have a detrimental effect on their mental health, specifically in those with low self-confidence and with undiagnosed addictive personality. Indeed, children having access to the internet and social media via their smartphone is inevitably going to expose them to less savoury aspects of the digital landscape, which is why it’s important to monitor their use and take precautions where you feel it’s necessary.
Critics also point to recent studies which suggest that children that use smartphones get less sleep, on average, then those without.
Ultimately, it’s up to you when you feel your child is ready for a smartphone, and the decision of whether you ‘should’ give your child a smartphone has to be made with all of these elements in mind.