Welcome to Parent Hub

Are Smartphones Damaging our Children?

Posted on 08 May 2018

Smartphone use – what are the dangers? Many parents ask this and other related questions, like How many hours is safe? Is Social Media the main issue? Where do I look for guidance?

Just by typing “are smartphones safe for children” into Google, 2.5 million articles pop up to alert concerned parents of the dangers of smartphones.

Many articles describe children and teen behavior changing with excessive smartphone use, including sleep deprivation, depression and low-self-esteem.

Not to mention dealing with the costs of app purchases, online game access and mobile data usage.

As children start secondary school, many parents give them a smartphone in order to keep track and allow them to engage with their peers. However, increasingly, parents are giving smartphones to children as young as 9. 

By the age of 16, 96% of teenagers own a smartphone, which shows how crucial it is for parents and adolescents to have a good understanding of what boundaries should be in place around smartphone usage.

Although it is suggested that children under the age of two should only use smartphones for video chat, the suggestion by Jean Twenge is that children over the age of two (including teenagers) should limit smartphone use to 90 minutes per day.

However, further research also suggests that the addictive nature of smartphones makes it difficult to limit and the dangers are unclear. For example, sleep deprivation is linked to depression on its own, even without adding screen time to the mix.

All of these issues can lead to concerns that adolescents are staying home more, because the need for social interaction is reduced – after all, they can just text or message their cohort. Adolescence, Twenge states, is a key time for developing social skills. There is a danger that more children will know when to use the laughing emoji than actually laughing with friends.

According to Dr Andrew Przybylski of the Oxford Internet Institute, moderate levels of screen time a day allow teens to “relax and decompress”. Removing their ability to chill out and socialise on their phones could lead to issues as well. In fact, the Guardian suggests that children who do not have access to smartphones or social media are reportedly less happy than children who do.

Moderation is key

As with most parenting nightmares, like sweet consumption or homework battles, the answer is moderation. Access to social media seems to be an area of most concern for parents as the number of health issues arising from poor self-esteem are growing. So, talk to your child about their social media habits and online safety.

In most cases, social media and smartphone use are not the only things to blame. Often children with signs of depression display mental health concerns in other aspects of their lives, such as school. Parents cannot simply point a finger at smartphones as the scapegoat.

The NSPCC does publish a useful guide on internet usage that you can read with your children so they can understand the research behind the guidelines as well.

As Judie Lynne Evans states, “It is battering our children’s brains. They have no time for the goodies in life – kindness, acceptance, conversation, face-to-face, nature, nurture. They need to find a sense of purpose by connecting with other people, not being on the Internet all the time.”

She is not anti-internet, but self-described as simply opposed to the negative impact it could likely have if left unmonitored.

The answer? Read, understand, communicate and share. Just as you should be talking to your children about too many sweets and not enough vegetables – communication and understanding are key to promoting healthy smartphone habits.

Parent Hub recommends reading a child friendly guide with younger children, like this CBeebies guide to online safety. This will pave the way to good practice for future smartphone use!

The verdict here is that as CommonSense media outlines, smartphones are okay as long as parents instill parameters around app purchases, social media use and gaming.