A common decision parents face is when and if they should allow their children and teens access to smartphones and other mobile devices. While there are some benefits to providing children with this technology, in many cases they are outweighed by negative consequences.
When listing benefits, things like the ability to use their devices for research and educational games usually top out the list, but will this actually be the way your child uses their device? Many schools have computers and tablets available in the classroom, so children don’t need to provide their own technology. Your child is more likely to use their device for social purposes, like interacting on social media, than they will researching or playing “educational” games.
Mobile devices are extremely stimulating and provide instant gratification, both of which can cause using your phone to become more of a compulsion than an active decision. Because the impulse control portion of the brain doesn’t finish developing until most people are in their 20’s it can be next to impossible for children to self-regulate when it comes to technology. If you have trouble controlling the impulse to stare at your phone, consider what your child is going through in the same situation.
One way to avoid this is to set limits for screen time. There are apps available that will allow you to create down time where the apps and internet on your child’s phone won’t function so that you know your child is actually getting enough sleep and isn’t on their phone during the school day. This takes the pressure off of your kids to regulate their use themselves since it really isn’t something they’re capable of.
The number of available apps that could be misused by children and teens never seems to stop growing. Snapchat, Kik, and more make it easy for kids to engage with each other in ways that can often be inappropriate.
When a child has a smartphone, they have unfettered internet access. How simple would it be for your child to stumble upon things that are not age appropriate, indulge their curiosity, or have inappropriate interactions with other children? It’s easier than you might think and often happens inadvertently.
If you do decide to provide your child with a smartphone, it’s important to stay in the loop and do your best to filter their access to their internet. Set boundaries for appropriate use, talk to them about what they should and should not do, and stay up to date on the latest apps and how they’re being used.
Setting an Example
Consider your own technology use. How mindless are the games you play or the social media feeds you scroll through? Do you see people saying hateful and hurtful things? Do you encounter things that would be highly inappropriate for children? If your child has a smartphone they have the opportunity to encounter all of the same things you do, and if you spend a large amount of time staring at your phone, chances are your children are doing the same.
At St. Barnabas Episcopal School we understand how distracting cell phones can be for students, which is one of the reasons why we have a no phone policy during the school day. If they don’t have their phone on them they don’t have to worry about fighting the temptation to use it and they can remain completely focused on their studies.