Smart Phones:  Helpful or Dangerous?

Smartphones have brought amazing changes to our lives, so much so that they have become a necessity for many. The desire to own a cell phone is common among adults, and it is not surprising to find that kids of all ages feel this way too. Many parents debate about when to allow their children to possess a cell phone. Their decisions on this affect their child as well as their child’s school. School administrators have had to create a special policy to deal directly with students’ use of cell phones in their buildings. Everyone wants what is best for children, and each should consider the benefits and dangers smartphones bring to kids before the phones are given to them.

One of the main reasons why parents support their children’s possession of smartphones is that they love the idea of being able to stay in touch with them. Since very young children are still being supervised by their parents or other caregivers, their need for a phone of their own is insignificant. As a child ages, however, independence is exercised. Depending on one’s location, he or she may be venturing to the playground alone before the age of ten. Kids begin visiting friends and exploring their neighborhoods by foot or bicycle. When children start driving, parents will see even less of them. A parent’s need to know the child’s location and of his or her well-being will always be present, no matter what the child’s age. Smartphones make contact easy. With a quick text or call, a parent can easily find out where the child is and what he or she is doing. Kids like being able to quickly communicate with their parents too. It gives them peace of mind to know that they are only a call away. This is invaluable when emergencies occur.

The ability to stay in touch so easily also makes smartphones a problem in the lives of children too. Phones can become a terrible distraction. It’s easy for anyone to fall into the habit of constantly checking or sending messages to others. This can affect a child’s focus at home, in the classroom, and even behind the wheel of a car. Parents with children who drive need to have regular discussions with their kids about the dangers of using their phones while driving. In addition to texting, talking on the phone, even with a hands-free device or speaker, is a major distraction to anyone operating a vehicle. Kids need to be reminded of this, and they need to see their parents refraining from phone use while driving too. Rules about when kids can access their phones at school vary from place to place. Students need to respect the expectations that are being set for them in the classroom. Use of a phone during prohibited times can affect the user’s learning and even the focus of those around him or her.

Smartphones do so much more than let us communicate with others. They are designed for gameplay, video streaming, and internet access. These features can be helpful to a child in school when it comes time to research or read for pleasure. Teachers may allow kids to use their smartphones for such activities, and parents may support their child’s choice to use these features too, but they certainly don’t have to provide their child with a phone that has these capabilities. Children can become hooked on overusing this technology. Smartphone use can become the number one priority in their lives. Given the chance, they can develop tendencies to push aside schoolwork and hobbies in exchange for more time with the phone. One common problem that can become a major health concern is that smartphone users allow their phones to disrupt their sleep. Parents should establish clear rules about when a phone should be turned off to prevent this from happening. Young children should be expected to store the phone in an area far out of reach at night. Again, parents can model the same behavior to show kids how important it is to give the phone a break at night.

Parents and those who work closely with children need to have regular conversations regarding appropriate cell phone use and safety. The devices make it easy for malicious users to bully others, stalk them, or expose them to pornographic content. While parents may not want to intrude upon their children’s privacy by reading their messages, it is okay to ask the children about the kind of messages they have been sending and receiving and how often they are using the phones. Smartphones allow numbers to be blocked and limits to be placed on the amount of data, messages, and talk time available. These features can help keep children safe and control phone use.

If you are considering giving your child a smartphone, there are several key points to reflect upon. Even if your child is in elementary school, he or she may be responsible and mature enough to handle phone access. Before handing over the technology, make sure you have set clear rules for phone use as well as consequences for misuse.