While many experts and parents agree that a Smartphone and the technology it brings may have underlying effects on children of different ages, what many don’t seem to agree on is to what extent those effects are and at what age should parents be wary.
If you are a parent with children, you may have decided to give them a phone before they were 10 or 16 years because that meant they were always available and within reach even when physically apart, or the phone is a teaching aid.
Other parents are maybe still holding off on giving their teenagers a Smartphone because they don’t want their children to be exposed to social media, dependency, and other vices linked to Smartphone use at certain ages. So maybe before answering the question, what is the right age to get your child a Smartphone; what do the statistics show?
With nearly 99% of children going online in the UK in 2021 during the Covid pandemic, and 33% of parents with children between 5 to 7 agreeing that their children have social media profiles plus another 60% of parents with children between 8 to 11 agreeing on the same, one would think that almost every child has access to a smartphone and is online in the UK.
According to these statistics from Ofcom in their Children and Parents report of 2022, as years go more children are going online and own smartphones. The report also showed that children as young as 3 have their own smartphones allowing them to go online, and visit video-sharing platforms and other messaging sites.
In other studies done in 19 European countries, children between 9 and 16 admitted to having used a smartphone to go online daily or almost daily representing 80% of use and ownership among the questioned children. For children in the US between 9 and 11, 37% of parents admitted that their children owned smartphones.
So why the question of what is the right age against all these numbers? Experts on technology and child welfare continue to study the effects smartphones can have on children as they develop and the results usually leave parents a bit unsure sometimes about what is the right thing to do.
With research continuing on the link of smartphone use to mental health and inconclusive data that experts in the field don’t usually agree on, you may worry as a parent.
Why do parents worry about children having smartphones?
For some parents, worry comes when they think of the already existing data showing how exposure to social media, messaging applications, and other features available on smartphones leave on children.
For example, the Ofcom report showed that technology use among children led to more online bullying than in face to face interaction with children between 8 and 17 saying they had been bullied via video calls, social media, and text messages representing an 84% against the 61% of face to face bullying that had occurred.
Unlimited access is connected to more exposure to explicit images, bad language, and unwarranted attention while on the other hand offering parents peace of mind when they are away from their children knowing they are only a button away, or access to online classes or information, how do you decide?
There is no doubt that smartphone use will affect children as users negatively and positively but at what point and how is the question that many people are seeking answers to?
While study still progresses in this area, researchers believe that the complexity of the lives of different users in different settings will usually affect the results that they will turn up with and it’s a field they will continue to explore.
But does the data matter? Should you as a parent decide on what age to give your child a smartphone based on numbers alone? Or is it a question of how well you know your child and yourself?
What do most parents think about their children having smartphones?
Many parents will probably agree that this decision is one that you must make on your own and maybe the wiser question to ask yourself first is if your child is ready to have a smartphone and if you as parents understand what that will mean for the child and the whole family.
Do you feel that they are missing out if they don’t have a smartphone? If no then the age issue won’t matter but if yes; start by weighing your reasons for wanting them to have a smartphone or reasons why they should not count the cost; learn the amount of exposure the smartphone will create for your child and if owning it is worth any risks associated.
Ask yourself if your child is responsible enough to handle the added responsibility of owning and staying safe while online or using other features made available by the phone, see if you set a good example when it comes to using your phone so that when you set any regulation on the use or put up restrictions your children will pay enough attention.
If you ask them not to use their phone while eating will they argue against it because it is what you do? Remember with safety features and restrictions on content, parents can protect their children from certain dangers online and help their children know the boundaries to stay safe.
But are you in control? Lack of control on your part as a parent or a breakdown in communication may create conflict.
All of these things must be thought over and discussed openly if you want to buy a smartphone for your child, especially one who is older.
And one thing parents should not forget is that being tech savvy does not mean a child is ready to have a smartphone, research has shown that many children learn to operate smartphones early and can recall their parent’s passwords. So be ready to train on the proper use and teach the right values so your decision is something you can live with.