When Should We Give Our Kids Smartphones?
Currently, we’re in the golden age of technology. While I’m sure cellphones will improve beyond our wildest dreams in the next 20 years, we’re currently at a time when we have access to anything by asking “Siri.” While as adults this is a phenomenal tool to have at our fingertips, but it begs the question: at what age should we give our children smartphones?
Children born between the years of 1995 and 2012 have come to be labled as “iGen” by Jean Twenge, a professor at San Diego State University. These children were born during a great evolution of cellphones.
In an article featured in the Washington post, Hayley Tsukayama tries to answer the question, “What to do if you child tries to say ‘Alexa’ before ‘Mama’?” This article discusses a household in which a woman’s one-year-old son says “Aga” when referring to Alexa, but does not yet attempt “mama.”
These children are treating Alexa as if she is a real person. They interact with her on a daily basis and some may even treat her like a friend. Children also have the capability to order items online from Alexa without their parents’ knowledge. While Alexa is a feature on many amazon devices, she has similar mechanisms to that of Siri on the iPhone. On any newer iPhones, the user can simply say “Hey, Siri” while the phone is sleeping and Siri will be listening and answer your question.
In an article posted on NPR.org by Audie Cornish, she claims that Smartphones might be to blame for adolescent depression. Smartphones have increased a teen’s access to the Internet which also means it has increased their exposure to the bad things on the Internet: cyberbullying, sexting, and emotional abuse from their peers. All of this exposure is having a profound impact on the mental health of today’s teens. She states that teens are more likely to be anxious, have symptoms of depression, and have thought about or attempted suicide. Teens may feel an increased loneliness because they are not getting the same interaction that they had previously. Instead of interacting face-to-face, they are talking via texting or Facebook messenger. As adults, we know it is difficult to interpret someone’s intent or emotion behind a message sent in words, but can teens identify that they may be misinterpreting messages negatively? This could be what’s causing the increase in anxiety.
Interestingly, Jean Twenge mentions that even though all of these issues are going on over the internet, teenagers are actually physically safer than they have been in the past- there is less teen drinking, teens are learning to drive later in life, and they are abstaining from sex for longer periods of time.
So when is the right time to give our children smartphones? An article posted on dallasnews.com by Brooke Shannon asks that we do not give our children smartphones until they are in eighth grade. Why is eighth grade the magic number? According to this article, experts believe that the longer we wait to expose a child to a smartphone the better. Some even argue that we should wait as long as high school graduation to provide a child with a smartphone. In fact, billionaire Bill Gates waited until his children were 14. At this time, a child is more mature and capable of handling issues that may arise. He may also be more active in afterschool activities, which necessitates a phone so a parent can keep track of him.
I think at whatever age you give your child a phone, it’s important to have a conversation about the dangers. It’s important to make sure they know you’re always there to help interpret messages or do your best to prevent cyberbullying may help make the transition easier. As a parent the choice is completely up to you, and no matter what you decide, you’re still a good parent.