Should we give smartphones to kids?


Loving your kids is something all parents, relations, guardians and care givers must do without exception. Children depend on us to guide them through the good times and the bad in the real world and the virtual one, whether they express it or not. One of those questions that comes up nowadays is the one you hope they wouldn’t ask “Mum/Dad….. (long pause) Can I have a phone?’. Your thoughts turn to the cyberbullying of 14 year old Hannah Smith and at most times we struggle to answer this request. So how do you tackle this inevitable question? How do you advise that aunty or grandparent of yours who is dying to give your kids smartphones as gifts? Let’s study the facts:

How do I introduce technology to my kids?

According to Dr Carolyn Jaynes, a learning designer, the first two years of your children’s life is a no go zone for either supervised or independent use of technology. She states “Children under two years of age learn best from real-world experiences and interactions” with the warning that “each minute spent in front of a screen-based device is a minute when your child is not exploring the world” and we could not agree more. She continues that by the age of three in most cases our toddlers are now being exposed top technology. But what age is ideal for supervised technology?

Jeannie Galindo, a supervisor of instructional technology for the Manatee County School District in Florida answers this by stating that by the age 4 to 5 children can be supervised (i.e. technology use in public areas like the living room, no technology in private areas like the bed room) to learn and interact with technology for around 30 minutes per day going up to around 60 minutes per day for a 6 to 7 year old. And unsupervised technology? “In an unsupervised environment, I wouldn’t recommend a smartphone or tablet purchase for a child until at least between the ages of 11 and 13.” is her answer and even then she recommends no more than 2 hours per day. To limit your absorption of continuous screen time clinicians suggest the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away.

The general idea of use is illustrated below:


© DrDigible under Creative Commons 4.0


Does content matter?

This is the age old question in the use of technology: Education vs. Entertainment. Dr Jaynes says that “It’s important to focus on the content and message when making age-appropriate media choices. What children watch and play matters,” Any games which builds your child’s memory, reasoning and creativity should be preferred. To filter the types of stuff your kids use you can refer sites like Common Sense Media and

Psychological problems related to smartphone use

Julia Lynn Evans, a UK psychotherapist with over 25 years experience in dealing with children says there is an increased in psychiatric cases among tweens and teens related to technology.

“Something is clearly happening,” she says, “because I am seeing the evidence in the numbers of depressive, anorexic, cutting children who come to see me. And it always has something to do with the computer, the Internet and the smartphone.”

She goes onto say that while your kids may not be becoming rowdy in a pub or nightclub they maybe doing things which are even worse in the privacy of their rooms!

Then there is the ‘acting without thinking’ phenomenon. “So if you are having a WhatsApp chat with your friends, and it all goes very wrong, you can say to them, ‘I wish you were dead’. Now perfectly nice children find themselves saying, ‘I wish you were dead,’ because they haven’t got time to reflect, and then their words go everywhere. Kindness, compassion, ethics, it’s all out of the window when you are in this instantaneous gossip world with no time to think, and no time to learn about having relationships.” says Julia.

Best practices for your kids and you

(We have covered a few points in an earlier post)

  • Be an example: Yes parents I am talking to you (and to myself). Don’t use smartphones in your bedroom. Turn the smartphone off and spend more time with your kids. Your kids will follow your example.
  • Collaborate with your kids: Say you saw something in nature like a beautiful flower. Get your kids to take the picture and research about it online with them. This will promote productive use.
  • Limit screen time: Use the 20-20-20 rule
  • Content matters
  • Before considering buying your kids a phone ask yourself:
    1. Do they really need it? Do they need to keep in touch with you?
    2. Do they respect your current rules on other media like TV and Internet?
    3. Do they understand what sort of apps to download?
    4. Do they understand what sort of information they should not share online?
  • Before you give a phone to your kids have a written agreement with them!
  • Have curfew times in the night when no smartphones or tablets should be used. Entire cities have done it!

If you want even more information there is a great guide on the security website Lookout. There are many guides on safe use for kids like the one below:

(Image CC Flickr Balazs Koren)

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