When mobile phones were still chunky, ancient pieces of technology a few decades back, you will hardly see any teenagers, much less kids, using them. But now that mobile phones have turned into slim, high-tech smartphones which are practically mobile computers, almost all teenagers, kids and even toddlers can be seen using them. In fact, kids these days have become so adept at using these high-tech devices that they almost consider it as a birth right.
The dilemma, then, lies on the parents. If, a few decades back, only responsible teenagers were allowed by their parents to have their own mobile phones, what are the rules now? Should you let your son have his own smartphone at the age of 11 or 12? If you’re in for a long flight or a long road trip, should you feel guilty about using smartphones or tablet computers as an electronic babysitter that would capture their attention for the duration of the flight? And what are the consequences of actually buying your child a smartphone? That is exactly what we will learn more about here.
How Early Do Kids Start Using Smartphones?
First, let’s take a look at exactly how early kids are starting to use smartphones these days. In a study presented at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, it showed that by the time that kids reach their second year in life, they would have already used mobile devices. The study showed the percentage of technology that kids in average homes become exposed to, which are as follows:
- 97% of families’ homes have a television set
- 83% have tablet computers
- 77% have smartphones
- 59% have Internet access
- 52% of kids under the age of one year had watched TV.
- 36% of kids under the age of one touched or scrolled a screen.
- 26% of kids under the age of one called someone; 15% used apps; and 12% played video games.
- 26% of 2-year-olds and 38% of 4-year-olds used devices for at least an hour.
The American Academy of Pediatrics actually frowns upon excessive media and television exposure for kids, especially at a young age. The experts in the academy said that it can lead to school-related problems, attention problems, obesity and risky behavior. The problem is that parents themselves do allow their kids the use of these high-tech devices:
- 60% of parents said they let their kids use mobile phones while running errands.
- 65% of parents use mobile phones to calm kids.
- 29% of parents use mobile phones to put their kids to sleep.
In a similar report from Lookout.com and The Online Mom, the age that parents think is most appropriate for a child to get their first phone are as follow:
- 22% of parents think that kids can get smartphones as early as 10 years old.
- 14% of parents think that kids can get smartphones at age 13.
- 14% of parents think that kids can get smartphones at age 16.
But what are the actual percentages of kids who are already using mobile phones? Take a look:
- 77% of teens aged 12 to 17 own a cell phone.
- 56% of parents of kids aged 8 to 13 said that their kids own mobile phones.
- 63% of teens said that they exchange text messages everyday, while 1% said that they text less than once a week.
- 75% of teenage drivers admitted to texting while driving.
- 28% of teens confessed to sending inappropriate pictures to another person via their mobile phone.
Finally, here is a quick look at how parents use their smartphone:
- 8% use it as a tool to issue warnings and punishments for kids.
- 23% use it to communicate with teachers and administrators.
- 27% use it for mobile shopping.
- 41% use it to coordinate grocery lists and errands.
- 43% use it to keep kids entertained.
- 75% use it to take and share pictures of their kids with their friends.
Reasons Why Buying Your Child a Phone is Not Necessarily a Good Idea
The above are all important statistics which show the prevalence of kids using mobile phones. If you’re a parent who is considering buying your son or daughter a mobile phone, what are the consequences? There really is no one right age by which parents should buy phones for their kids. It’s all a matter of deciding whether kid is ready for the responsibility or not.
Here’s a checklist of the things that you, as a parent, should ask yourself when deciding if your kid is ready to have his or her own smartphone:
- Does my kid need a mobile phone to stay connected with me for emergency situations?
- Does my kid understand and respect the time and usage limits I placed on things like watching TV or playing video games?
- Does my kid understand which types of apps are okay to download, and how to browse the net safely?
- Does my kid know how to use the mobile phone safely and appropriately?
If you answered yes to all or almost all of these questions, then your child might be ready for his or her mobile phone. However, there are consequences for doing so. Here are the reasons why buying your kid a phone may not necessarily be a good idea:
1. Smartphones alter the parent-child relationship.
If you’re getting your kid a mobile phone and she wants a glitzy iPhone or a top-of-the-line Android phone, the reasons could range from it’s a must-have for doing homework, or all the kids in school have it. Although it’s true that smartphones are convenient, it can easily alter the relationship between parent and child. That constant connectivity can be mistaken for genuine parent-child connection; it can weaken your authority as a parent; and for kids whose judgement and emotional stability are not fully established yet, having a smartphone can lead to bad consequences as far as the family’s relationships are concerned.
2. Smartphone ownership may prompt a lack of trust between parents and children.
If you’re a harangued parent who constantly checks up on your tween daughter using her smartphone, it can actually prompt a lack of trust between you two. Your daughter can easily hide her tracks, because as a parent, you need to remember that kids will always be one step ahead of you in terms of technology. That ease by which you can easily check up on your kid can be interpreted as nagging, hogging or being a claustrophobic parent. Instead of deepening the connection between you two, a smartphone can cause kids to develop resentment towards their parents, simply because the technology for checking up on them is there and is very easy to access.
3. Kids using smartphones can be data hogs.
Even if you’re using a basic feature phone which allows kids to browse the Internet, their frequency of use could still lead to data hogging. If your phone’s plan is connected with your daughter’s plan and she uses her phone to download apps, games, files, music, etc., your household budget can be astronomical if she fails to monitor her data usage. This is precisely the reason why you need to determine first if your child is capable of being responsible enough when it comes to owning a phone, especially with data charges.
4. Smartphones can be used to access inappropriate content.
Even if you have a computer in the living room which everyone in the family has easy access to, it can still be used to view inappropriate content. Just imagine how much riskier it would be to have your son use his smartphone in the privacy of his bedroom. Again, kids are always one step ahead in terms of technology so even if you use parental controls, he might still find a way to circumvent the privacy settings and access something inappropriate for his age.
5. Kids with smartphones may attract the attention of strangers.
If you have a child whose eyes are constantly glued on the screen, chances are he or she is chatting with someone. As a parent, you would never know who the person on the other end is, and chatting with strangers is never a good thing. Sharing and taking inappropriate photos which may land on the hands of dangerous individuals is another risk that you are taking by allowing your kid to have his or her own phone.
6. Older teens with smartphones could be texting and driving.
Lastly, older teens do have the tendency to drive and text or talk on the phone. This is a serious concern that parents have been dealing with since the prevalence of smartphone ownership for teenagers and older teens. If you really think that your son or daughter is responsible enough, always warn about the dangers of using the phone while driving.
In the end, it is entirely up to you as a parent to decide whether you should give your kid ownership of a smartphone or not. If you think that your child is old enough, make sure that he or she fully understands the responsibilities of owning a smartphone.
This way, you can rest assured that your kid is safe at all times, and is using the smartphone in a good way without endangering his or her own safety, or accessing inappropriate content.