Smartphones and kids: Dos and Don'ts
Look around you. Everyone is hunched over, walking down the street, texting on his or her smart phone. Families sit at restaurant tables, with every family member’s cell phone at the ready. It’s no wonder that kids want these devices as soon as their parents are willing to fork them over.
When my children were teens, they wanted cell phones too. Their argument—We could reach them anytime and anywhere. The only problem—pretty soon they stopped answering our calls! I frequently reminded them that I was paying for the phone. Isn’t it funny how kids seem to forget who’s paying the bill?
The siren call of technology is not new. Every generation has experienced its share of new devices and toys that were not available to their parents. I remember when color televisions were introduced! Wow! Of course, I didn’t know anyone that could actually afford to buy one. I bought one of the first PC’s that were available at a reasonable price—a boxy device that was hard to use, but was still pretty cool. Nothing like the laptop I am using to write this post today.
My kids, born in the 1980’s, wanted Nintendo games and then later flip phones. It was a tough to figure out what to say yes or no to, just like today. We had to figure out which hills to die on and which ones to let the little ones have.
What is different in this new millennium is the speed at which new toys and gadgets are developed and marketed. Every year new devices hit the streets with more bells and whistles than the year before. They get smaller, smarter, and sexier. The quantity of these gizmos is far greater than there were when I was kid—IPads, IPhones, laptops, X-boxes, and so on. Every new device can do more. It can make you dizzy!
I don’t think too many Moms and Dads worry about Joey watching a cartoon on an IPad while they are supermarket shopping. But smartphones are a doorway to the big, and sometimes, bad world of the Internet. To a large degree, it’s the Internet that changed the landscape of modern life. It’s relatively easy, with parental controls and monitoring software, to know what 12-year-old Sarah is doing on the family PC. But with a smartphone, it gets a little dicey. These give kiddos access to the World Wide Web and social media. They can take pictures and video that can be uploaded to the Internet instantly. And, we know how impulsive these tweens and teens can be! Thinking ahead or anticipating the consequences of their actions doesn’t register well in their developing brains.
Texting has become the communication vehicle for kids. In a recent survey of 12-17 year olds, boys send close to 85 texts per day while girls dashed off 130 per day! Adding social media and computer games into the mix doesn’t leave much time for homework!
I asked some of my pediatric colleagues their sage advice about these devices. Here’s what they said—
“Remember you are paying the bill and you get to set the ground rules on how it is to be used or not”—James Dauer, Child and Adult therapist. Don’t let kids nickel and dime you into giving them more access to their smartphones than you want them to have. It’s your place to set the limits and verify that they are met.
“I would recommend a basic phone (dumb phone) for middle school, and not allow a smart phone until high school. Parents should have access to teen’s social media sites as a condition of purchasing them a smartphone. Take random looks to see what they’re doing! —James Troutman, M.D., Pediatrician
Dr. Troutman reminds us of the old adage, trust but verify.
Remember, “you da boss”.