Parents and guardians, this question is for you. At what age do you feel appropriate for a child to have their own cell phone? Also, how much screen time should be allowed? We ask because it appears the age is seemingly becoming younger and younger at a rapid pace. You cannot frequent parks, community centers, schools, or shopping centers without seeing youth on their cell phones (often to enthralled with their screen to even bother interacting with the friends around them). So today, we are going to dive in and explore the many issues that have risen for our youth due to the popularity and accessibility of the smart phone.
To begin, let’s take out a look at the science. Many studies have been completed regarding the long-term effects of screen time and the changes that occur in the brain due to excessive screen time. Perhaps the most alarming comes from an article on Psychology Today by Victoria L. Dunkley M.D. Brain scan research concluded that excessive screen time creates atrophy (loss of tissue or volume). One of the largest effected is the frontal lobe which is in charge of planning, prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control. Another area of large concern is the damage to the insula, which is involved with our ability to develop empathy and compassion for others. This crucial development dictates one’s ability to develop quality relationships. Maybe it’s just us, but this is terrifying! Is this our future?!
Additionally, screen time can contribute to other psychological and physiological consequences. In an article by Lissak, screen time is noted to contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, vision problems, lower bone density, poor sleep and poor stress regulation. Psychological impacts include depression, suicidal ideation, ADHD behaviors, antisocial behavior and over-active reward pathways. Lastly, psychoneurological consequences include addictive behaviors that lead to lower levels of social coping, control, and emotional regulation (Lissak, 2018). This list touches on reason for concern when it comes to screen time. Do you see any of these behaviors or consequences in yourself or child?
Yeah, yeah, we know it’s a lot, but facts are facts!
Now that the science is out of the way, let’s talk about the next obvious problem, children who are far too young, being exposed to negative and influential content. Most social media platforms have an age limit of over 16, for very good reason. So why are so many elementary and middle school students on these platforms? As parents/guardians should we be allowing this? And better yet, are you monitoring their use? One thing that we have continued to see over the last year is shocked parents when they finally take a look at their kid’s phones or tablets. The language being used, the content being posted, and the sites/channels being visited. This exposure can have dire consequences for our youth. We wonder if quite simply, they are just not mature enough to properly handle and process the emotions that arise when seeing this negativity.
Remember being young, wild, and free before social media? Would you have wanted every aspect of your life documented on social media for the world to see (including your parents)? We’re not sure we would! Youth these days seem to have an obsession with documenting and filming all of their antics. However, we wonder how much of the experience youth are actually enjoying when their heads are down the whole time? Why the need to post everything? Have youth become so accustomed to the rush and validation of “likes” to truly enjoy and take in their experiences? Now we are certainly not saying every child is this way that would be ridiculous!
So, we end with this, there is no magic age that kids should receive their first phone. There are many factors that play into this. We do know however that too much too soon can have negative impacts on a child's development and mental health. Perhaps as parents, we need to remember these things. We need to remember that yes, it is easy to allow our kids to disappear for hours in front of a screen so we can rest, sleep, catch up on the never-ending housework, or simply have some “me” time. We understand this, and we do not condemn this. We simply encourage parents to find a balance. We encourage parents to be involved and informed on what their children are doing on-line. As parents, we must develop an open honest and trusting relationship regarding online access. Let’s teach our kids internet safety, let’s teach our kids that it is okay to “unplug”. And let’s not forget, we are the adults, we ultimately have control to set rules and boundaries. It’s okay to be the “bad guy” when teaching valuable life skills and lessons. Our kids will thank us in the end.
What are your thoughts on this? How do you manage your child's screen time? Leave us a comment and let us know!
Dunckley, V. L. (2014). Gray matters: too much screen time damages the brain. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/mental-wealth/201402/gray-matters-too-much-screen-time-damages-the-brain
Lissak, G. (2018). Adverse physiological and psychological effects of screen time on children and adolescents: literature review and case study. Environmental Research 164, 149-157. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2018.01.015