… Concerns grow over addiction, distraction
From Olabisi Olaleye, USA [email protected] 08094000013, 08111813040
It has become a norm to see even six-year-olds at social gatherings using tablets or high-end phones to take pictures or play games and, sometimes, children use the Google app to get answers and help them do their homework.
Now, the dilemma of many parents is, at what age should a child own a smartphone?
The smartphone, after all, is a tool for to unfettered access to the Internet and the many benefits and dangers that come with it.
Even one-year-olds can use smartphones today because it is part of everyday life in the modern setting and they are quick to learn new skills such that they do not need any training on how to use them.
Moreover, smartphones bring many benefits: with the devices, children gain access to powerful apps, including educational tools for studying, chat apps for connecting with friends and the a wealth of information on the web.
But they are also distractions due to games, entertainment portals, sexting apps and social media, where online bullies are on the prowl.
According to a recent report by the New York Times, older children are not immune because at least 100 students at a Colorado high school were embroiled in a scandal that involved trading naked pictures of themselves on their mobile devices.
According to a parent, Ms. Weinberger, If you hold off giving smartphones to children, many still have access through devices like computers and tablets. The main difference with a smartphone is that it is with a child everywhere, including outside of parental supervision.
She emphasised that parents should determine when their child truly needs a smartphone: “When that time comes, there are approaches for testing the waters before handing one to the child. One popular option is to start the child off with dumbed-down mobile devices, like feature phones that can only send text messages or place phone calls, and to assess whether they can use those devices responsibly.”
Lynn Muscat, a parent in San Francisco, said she had considered buying a “dumb phone” for her 10-year-old son to keep in touch while he was at summer camp. She ended up buying a smartwatch that has calling and texting capabilities and a locked-down list of contacts so that her son could interact only with people she had approved.
Muscat said she did not consider buying her child a smartphone partly because she felt the device would make him a target for muggers. She also was appreciative of how smartphones had affected other children around him.
“When you decide that it’s time to bestow a smartphone on your child, there are ways to set limits,” she said.
To help parents enforce rules consistently, Ms. Weinberger has published a family contract listing the rules of smartphone use, which includes promises never to take nude selfies and never to try to meet strangers from the Internet in real life. Parents state what the consequences are for breaking the rules, and the child must sign the contract before receiving a smartphone.
Another parent, Mr. Steyer, said he set other limits, like no smartphones at the dinner table and no phones in the classroom. If his children break the rules, he takes their phones away.
The parents noted that there are some phone settings that can help keep children safe when they do get smartphones.
For iPhones, Apple offers a switchboard full of features that parents can enable or disable, including the ability to restrict the Safari browser from gaining access to adult content and the ability to prevent apps from using cellular data. The iPhone’s parental controls live inside the Settings app in a menu labelled Restrictions.
Android phones lack similar built-in parental control settings, though there are many apps in Google Playstore that let parents add restrictions. Ms. Weinberger highlighted the app Qustodio, which lets parents monitor their children’s text messages, disable apps at certain times of the day or even shut off a smartphone remotely. While that can be an aggressive approach to restricting a child’s smartphone, Ms. Weinberger said her job as a parent was not to make her children like her.
“My only job as a parent is to prepare you for the day you leave,” she said. “If that’s the case, I have to keep you safe, and you’re not going to like some of the things I say and that’s OK.”
Tech experts insist that 12 years is the ideal age, while others said 14. All agreed that smartphones could be addictive distractions that detract from schoolwork while exposing children to issues like online bullies, child predators or sexting.
“The longer you keep Pandora’s box shut, the better off you are,” said Jesse Weinberger, an Internet safety speaker based in Ohio who gives presentations to parents, schools and law enforcement officials. “There’s no connection to the dark side without the device.”
Ms. Weinberger, author of smartphone and internet safety book, The Boogeyman Exists, said she had surveyed 70,000 children in the last 18 months and found that, on average, sexting began in the fifth grade, pornography consumption began when children turned eight, and pornography addiction began around age 11.
In a separate study published this year, Common Sense Media polled 1,240 parents and children and found 50 per cent of the children admitted that they were addicted to their smartphones. It also found that 66 per cent of parents felt their children used mobile devices too much, and 52 per cent of children agreed. About 36 per cent of parents said they argued with their children daily about device use.