Children and smartphones: Adopting the Bill Gate Approach?
It’s still a battle even as I write this piece. Once I come home from work and pick up my 8-month old daughter to give her a peck, a ritual which I rarely forget, she’d be on the lookout for my phone.
I’ve been monitoring this trend right from the time she started grasping objects in her hand and started being more conscious of the people and things around her. At this stage generally, children will subconsciously begin to reach for electronic gadgets of all kinds, particularly the smart phones.
I would have to take quite a chunk of the blame for my daughter’s fixation for smart phones. The smartphone has been one of the equipment in the gamut of strategies used to pacify her whenever she feels restless. Once she gets sight of the bright screen and moving objects with its accompanying audio, a smile will quickly lit up her face and next, you’d be struggling with her for the possession of the smartphone. If it’s left unguarded, you could be warming your way to the technician’s shop the next day for a screen replacement.
“A typical key to unfettered access to the internet is the smartphone. This is regardless of the attendant benefits and dangers that accompany it.”Quite unlike driving an automobile, which of course has a legal age in some countries and 18 years and above in Nigeria, there is no legal guideline for a parent to decide when a child is ripe for a smartphone.
According to a report by the Pew Research Centre, an average kid gets his or her first smartphone at the age of 11. That may not bring into considering access to smart phone or having parents who can afford one. The report goes on to say that children ages between 2-10 (Not in all cases as in my 8-month daughter’s) use their parents’ smartphones for playing games and getting access to educational resources.
As in my case, and on behalf of all working-class parents, (you know we are not justifying this) smartphones are ideal, handy gadgets for making kids busy and quiet. This is a great tool for parents who have little time to do the house chores considering work demands. So keeping the children busy without harassing you while you do some other important things is inevitable.
Raise Smart Kids, an online resource for raising children, says that smartphones and gadgets can also be ideal bribery tool. To get kids sit behave, sit quietly in the car, sit into a stroller etc, avail them a smart phone. But using this strategy obviously has its attendant trade-offs.
A research project funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council and the UK Department for International Development on young people phone usage in Ghana, Malawi and South Africa on the central place that mobile phone occupy in many young people’s lives gives a clue on the impact of phones on children.
From the survey, children aged nine to 18 years, 8% of children in Malawi owned their mobile phones while 16% in Ghana and 51% in South Africa.
In an article, How mobile phones are disrupting teaching and learning in Africa, by Huffington Post, some primary school pupils in South Africa use their phones to access sites like Master Maths to help them with their home works. This may go to justify the need to give children access to mobile phones.
Before we conclude on when would be the right time to expose children to smart phones, let’s examine the pros and cons of that idea.
There are several reasons why parents would rather have their children use smart phones.
- To stay in touch. Parents will always want to ensure that their children are safe. With a mobile phone, one can always and hear from the children or have the children call in case of emergency.
- Study Aid. The smart phone is home to myriads of educational app and games that help in the mental development of children. This will make learning process more efficient.
- Aptitude for Technology. The world is evolving at a fast rate. The use of smart phone will help develop children’s aptitude for technology. It will be ideal to let the child explore the world at an early stage since being techy may come handy as an important skill in the future.
- Cognitive and Social Development. Applied wisely for infants, exposure to screens can promote babies’ cognitive and social development. Applying wisely could mean being involved in your child’s use of screen and monitoring what they are seeing or doing.
As good as giving children access to smart phones, the attendant negative consequences also abounds. Let’s explore a few as enumerated by Raise Smart Kids.
- Research has it that the child’s brain develops rapidly during the child’s first years. Young children learn best by interaction with people not smart phones. Attachment to smart phones and not humans may be harmful to the child’s brain development.
- Since screens distract children from interacting with parents, siblings and other kids, this may impede language, social and emotional development. It may affect insights, empathy, ways of knowing themselves and connecting relationships.
- American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) do not recommend screen time for kids younger than 2. The point is that toddlers need to be physically active, exploring their environment. They shouldn’t be getting all of stimulation from the screen. They should be less sedentary and build their bodies through physical play.
- A better way of learning for toddlers and babies is through what they can touch instead of what they see on a screen.
- Studies suggest that children ages 3 to 5 whose parents read to them through electronic books had lower reading comprehension compared to physical books. Part of the reason is because the bells and whistles from books in electronic devices distract the kids and parents from focusing on the story. On the other hand, another study shows that 2-year-old learned words faster with an interactive app than one that is passive.
- Doctors are concerned that over-exposure to screen has an impact on attention span and concentration, as well as appetite control.
- According to Catherine Steiner-Adair, a Harvard-affiliated clinical psychologist, children “need time to daydream, deal with anxieties, process their thoughts and share them with parents, who can provide reassurance.” This is not what happens when children would rather play with tablets and smart phones while in a car ride.
- Children who sleep near a “small screen” (typically a smartphone) average 20.6 fewer minutes of sleep every night. This may be caused by the high levels of blue light emitted by the screens which depletes melatonin, a hormone linked to circadian rhythm. The extra screen time at night are resetting their bodies’ clocks in a way that makes it difficult for them to sleep, especially if they are just entering or are in the early stages of puberty. This results in lack of sleep and insufficient rest.
When is the right time?
In a recent interview with the Mirror, the former Microsoft CEO, Bill Gates revealed that he still banned his kids from having mobile devices until they were 14. He also forbids them at dinner table and limits his youngest’s screen time before she goes to bed. He is quoted to have said “You’re always looking at how it can be used in a great way – homework and staying in touch with friends – and also where it has gotten to excess”
It is obviously difficult to set a specific age to allow children access to smartphone. The major point of consideration is the child’s individual responsibility and maturity.
Almost in line with Bill Gate’s approach, some authorities have suggested that the earliest appropriate age for getting access to a smartphone is 12-13 years and above.
Even at that age, parental control is of essence. There are lots of inappropriate contents online such as pornography, violent video and images, articles and stories meant for adults. Also, report of child abuse caused by children being invaded by online predators and luring them to meet them in certain places are abound. With the use of smartphones, these become easy.