Why is it important to wait with smartphones for children?

Top executives from Silicon Valley understand the impact of smartphones very well, e.g., Steve Jobs preferred to place their children in zero high-tech classroom school. Bill and Melanie Gates only gave their daughter a smartphone when she turned 14. More about this aspect towards the end of this document.

Many published articles provide us as parents and guardians a long list of reasons why we need to delay access to smartphones to children, until at least grade 8 or the age of 14. We need to know these reasons.

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1) Smartphones are changing childhood

Our children need lots of fun-filled and stress-free real-life experiences with all their senses and free outside play during childhood. Also, meaningful and supportive conversations with their parents, families, and friends are necessary to build strong relationships. They will then have more real-life (and humane) skills to grow into strong adults who can face the world’s wonderful opportunities and challenges that need innovative and creative problem-solving skills. 

Unfortunately, too early access to these smart devices is quickly changing childhood, negatively impacting the development of happy and healthy-balanced children. Children waste valuable hours following social media like TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, video gaming, and catching up on YouTube. Playing outdoors, having fun and spending time with friends, reading books, and hanging out with family are happening a lot less. 

When children spend too much time in front of screens, they miss critical milestones and physical and social development.

2) Smartphones are addictive

New research shows that dependence on your smartphone may produce some of the same addictive brain responses as alcohol, drug, and gambling addictions. 

Smartphones are like slot machines in your children’s pockets, constantly persuading them to crave more. The tech industry intentionally designs smartphone apps and social media for people to use for extended periods because this is how they make their money. 

3) Smartphones are an academic distraction 

Elementary and middle school years establish a child’s academic success. Children learn how to manage time, projects, and homework productively. Introducing a constant distraction with a smartphone is paving a path for intellectual mediocrity. The early results of a landmark study on brain development by the National Institute of Health show children who spent more than two hours a day looking at a screen got lower scores on thinking and language tests. 

Research from the University of Texas suggests that mere smartphone presence reduces cognitive capacity and test-taking brainpower. One study demonstrated that using smartphones in classrooms can lower a student’s grade. Another study found that children who attended schools with smartphone bans did better on tests. 

4) Smartphones are altering children’s brains

The outermost layer of the brain processes information from the five senses. Initial results from a ground-breaking study by the National Institute of Health reveal that MRIs found significant differences in the brains of children who use smartphones, tablets, and video games more than seven hours a day. The study found that children spending an excessive amount of time on screens have a premature thinning of the cortex.

5) Smartphones impair sleep

Studies show that using smartphones and other portable devices with screens affects the quantity and quality of sleep in children and teens. Adolescents are likely restless because they anticipate receiving texts and social media messages from friends, which affects their night-time routine. 

Some children even wake up in the middle of the night to check texts or social media. Sleep disturbance in childhood is known to have adverse effects on health, including poor diet, obesity, weakened immune system, stunted growth, and mental health issues.

6) Screentime affects behaviour 

Tweens who spend more time on screens have a higher likelihood of developing disruptive behaviour disorders, with social media having a powerful influence, a new UC San Francisco-led study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found. 

Social media use was most likely linked to conduct disorder. In contrast, other forms of screen use—such as watching television, playing video games, and texting—were more likely to be associated with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

Conduct disorder is characterized by violating others’ fundamental rights or societal rules with actions such as bullying, vandalism, and stealing. ODD manifests in an angry or irritable mood, aggressive behaviour, and vindictiveness.

7) Smartphones limit relationships 

The parent-child relationship suffers. Many parents regret allowing their child to have a smartphone because they have experienced how the smartphone is destructive to relationships. Children are often inattentive with the constant distraction the phone brings. Face-to-face relationships dwindle as children shift their time and energy to investing in online “friendships.”

8) Smartphones increase the risk for anxiety and depression

Children are not emotionally equipped to navigate tricky social media early. Viewing someone else’s highlight reel, videos, or photos on social media often leads youth to think they are missing out or are not enough compared with their peers. 

Research shows that the more time someone uses social media, the more likely they are to be depressed. A Harvard Business Review showed the more you use Facebook, the worse you feel. Another report demonstrated that adolescents’ psychological well-being decreased the more hours spent on screens a week.

In addition, when children overuse technology, the constant stimulation of the brain causes the hormone cortisol to rise. Too much cortisol can inhibit a child from feeling calm. The loss of tranquillity can lead to continuous stress and severe anxiety disorders. 

Suicide rates are rising, especially for girls between 10 and 14. For this age group, suicide rates have tripled over the past 15 years. 

9) Smartphones put your child at risk for cyberbullying

Bullying is no longer limited to the playground or locker room. Bullies seek to harm children through social media and texts, often making a retreat for the victim impossible. The most common medium used for cyberbullying is the smartphone. One out of every four children has experienced cyberbullying, and one out of every six has done it to others. 

Only one in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse. Recent research indicates that children who receive smartphones in primary school versus later in childhood are more likely to be involved in cyberbullying. Researchers confirm that the increased risk of cyberbullying is related to smartphone ownership and tied to increased opportunity and vulnerability.  

10) Smartphones expose children to sexual content

Smartphones have enabled children to view pornography anywhere. Pornography marketers target youth online to lure them to dangerous images and videos. One study showed that 42% of online youth users were exposed to online pornography. Of those, 66% reported unwanted exposure to pornography, often through online ads. 

Not only are children viewing sexual content with their phones, but they are creating it as well. More and more children are “sexting” (sending sexual text messages or explicit images). Also, various apps open the doors to sexual predators seeking to track, groom and harm our children. 

11) Technology executives ban smartphones for their children

According to a New York Times piece, many technology executives wait until their child is 14 before they allow them to have a phone. While these teenagers can make calls and text, they are not given a data plan until they are 16. 

If leaders of digital giants like Google, eBay, Apple, and Yahoo are delaying the smartphone, then should this not give us pause? Executives that flourish on the success of technology are protecting their children from smartphones. Should we not do the same?

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