Over the past few years, a number of parents have asserted to me that they have gotten their children cell phones in an effort to keep their children safe. Based on the number of children at my boys' schools who have cell phones, the common understanding seems to be that giving kids cell phones is a good idea. While I understand the desire for a parent to provide means by which the child can call home, in this blog post, I'd like to offer an alternative perspective on the whole "cell phone for kids" thing.
Providing your child with a cell phone, particularly of the "smart" variety, effectively provides them with round the clock access to the entire world and everyone in it. Let us briefly examine each aspect of this phenomenon.
Round the clock access: According to a 2011 study, 77% of teens own cell phones, 95% access the internet, and 80% are on social media (1). Researchers of another recent study suggest many teens currently experience persistent sleep deprivation, which interferes with mental health, as a result of addiction to their mobile phones. And, while teens are active on social media, they often avoid real-life socialization (2). I recommend discouraging time spent in front of screens and encouraging boredom, creative thought, and physical and social real-world stimulation (3).
Access to the entire world: Tim Elmore points out that Generation Z is the first generation who do not need adults to get information. Our kids can find whatever they want to know on the Internet. Let that sink in. What they do need is for adults to interpret the information they come across (3). We, as parents, can only help interpret the information we know they are accessing. While I do not prohibit my boys (ages 8, 11, and 13) from talking to Siri and exploring the Internet, I prefer them to do it on family devices in "public" areas of the house. My recommendation is not to control, but to monitor and be involved in Internet-based exploration.
Access to everyone in the world: Quite frankly, the risks our children face walking home from school or perusing store aisles pales in comparison to the risks involving social media. "Online Enticement involves an individual communicating with someone believed to be a child via the internet with the intent to commit a sexual offense or abduction....This type of victimization takes place across every platform; social media, messaging apps, gaming platforms, etc" (4). Victims of this form of enticement range in age from 1-17 (mean age of 15) and "Nearly all the children reported NOT knowing the extorter other than from their online communication" (4). When my boys want a new app or game, I ask them: "Does this involve talking with real people?" If they answer in the affirmative, my second question is "Does this involve talking with people you don't know?" If this answer is "yes," my answer is "no." I fully realize negotiating this issue will not always be this simple. Recently, I have acquiesced to Fortnite on the conditions that a) the "talking to people" part of the game is turned off and b) they only play the game on the "public" living room computer. Social media apps can also be disguised to look innocuous and browsing history can be deleted. So, I recommend initiating and maintaining open communication with children and teens regarding all aspects of the internet and social media use.
One final thought: When we, or our children, are busy looking at the phone, we are not busy being aware of our surroundings. We become ignorant of who is around us and what they are doing. We even become ignorant as to what we ourselves are doing. I submit to you, therefore, these devices may not be providing the safety we desire for our children and teens. For more information regarding Internet safety, visit www.netsmartz.org.
1) Roberto, A., Eden, J., Savage, M., Ramos-Salazar, L., & Deiss, D. (2014). Prevalence and Predictors of Cyberbullying Perpetration by High School Seniors. Communication Quarterly, pp. 97-114
2) Brochado, S., Soares, S., & Fraga, S. (2017). A Scoping Review on Studies of Cyberbullying Prevalence Among Adolescents. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838016641668
3)Elmore, T. (2013). A Generation of "Firsts" (Part One). Retrieved fromhttps://growingleaders.com/blog/a-generation-of-firsts/
4) Online Enticement. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.missingkids.com/theissues/onlineenticement#riskfactors
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