Think back to when you got your first cell phone. It was likely a momentous day, having finally proved you were mature and responsible enough to own a valuable device. The phone itself was very simple, and there were certainly no apps to download or even music to stream. Obviously, times have changed!
In today’s digital-forward world, smartphones rule the cellphone market. These pocketable screens have enriched our lives in many ways, making it easier for us to connect with others. At the same time, society has become addicted to them. We look at our phones multiple times a day — when we’re craving connection, looking for a distraction, or just bored. For parents today, this reality can make it a slippery slope when deciding to hand over a smartphone to their children.
Unfortunately, the purpose of a smartphone has strayed from simply keeping us connected. Smartphones are designed to be compelling and habit-forming devices. If you are a parent, this article is for you. Keep reading to discover four reasons why giving your child a smartphone can be detrimental to their health and development.
1. Smartphones Are Distracting
First and foremost, smartphones will divert your child’s attention away from the present. This may seem unlikely at first, but take a second to reflect on it.
How many times have you seen a parent give a screaming toddler their phone in a restaurant to calm them down? How many times has your own child found their way to the internet or downloaded an app without your permission? And how many times have you caught yourself scrolling for no reason while in line or waiting for someone?
With all of their bells and whistles, smartphones are more than a little distracting. As adults, we even have a hard time putting down our phones when our partner or friend is speaking to us. For a child, it can be especially difficult to create these boundaries. Unlike a kids phone, which has very basic features, a smartphone has full Internet access, allowing ample time for scrolling.
2. Smartphones Affect Social Skills
The first cellphones were created for on-the-go connection, but a smartphone’s use goes way beyond connecting. Children need to develop social skills through face-to-face interactions, not through digital correspondence while staring at a screen. This is especially true for our growing children who were subjected to ongoing Zoom learning due to the pandemic. This time largely robbed them of developing in-person friendships and forming their own meaningful relationships outside of the home.
Children who are given a smartphone early will likely want to download social media apps to keep up with friends. It may initially seem like a good idea for them to stay connected with their classroom peers and relatives. In reality, it sets them up to begin seeking peer validation. Your child might become obsessed over the types of photos they post and how many “likes” or comments they receive. While you can’t keep them off social media forever, the longer you delay instant access on their phones, the better.
3. Smartphones May Cause Behavioral Problems
The more time your child is on the phone, the less time they spend developing certain behavioral and motor skills. Even if your child is playing an educational game on the smartphone, nothing compares to the benefits of screen-free play. Playing with others also teaches young children important lifelong behavioral skills such as sharing and taking turns.
For older teens, smartphone usage can lead to an increased risk of attention problems, both at home and in school. There is also an association between smartphone and digital device usage among teens diagnosed with ADHD. Smartphones are an avenue for high-intensity stimulation 24/7. Children and even teens who don’t limit screen use may be more susceptible to these types of behavioral problems.
4. Smartphones May Impact a Child’s Health
Eye fatigue, blurred vision, poor posture, and headaches are just some of the most common symptoms of smartphone overuse. While we as adults might be able to recognize these symptoms immediately, it can be more difficult for children. Young people are often so entranced by what’s on the screen that they don’t notice how they are physically feeling.
Research has shown that smartphones may negatively impact a child’s physical and mental health. Neurological conditions, sleep patterns, impaired cognition, and screen addiction all need to be considered when allowing children to use smartphones. Not to mention, these devices can also significantly impact mental health, potentially leading to loss of interest and depressive symptoms. Delaying the age at which your child receives a smartphone will help you better mitigate these types of effects.
Just as there’s no “right way” to raise your children, there is no perfect age for owning a phone. You will likely know when your child is ready to get their own phone and, eventually, a smartphone. As noted, there are many excellent reasons for not rushing this decision.
Have open, honest conversations with your child. Let them know why you’re concerned about buying them a smartphone and why waiting longer may be best for them. Years from now, when your child is a young adult, they may well be thanking you for making this decision!