From the time they can grasp an object in their hands, children reach for electronic gadgets of all kinds, particularly our phones.
While this wasn’t much of a problem back in the day, when all we had to do was unplug a landline and let kids play freely with the buttons and dials, it’s a real dilemma for families whose households today rely heavily on smart phones and tablets.
There’s no escaping the fact that our world is becoming increasingly digital – or that kids can no longer wait till high school to get a mobile device of their own. Students interact with touch screens and computers every day in elementary school, and by middle school, are checking their grades and completing homework online. Those with smart phones receive reminders of important assignments and upcoming tests via teacher texts and emails.
So at what age is it safe for kids to have smart phones? It’s a question posed by parents in our practice almost every day.
For children under age 2, the answer is simple: Toddlers learn best from real-world experiences and interactions, and each minute spent in front of a screen is a minute they are not exploring the world and using their senses, which is extremely important in their development process.
By age 3, however, many experts agree that children can benefit from the educational content available on electronic media – with adult supervision. Today’s apps can help teach children critical thinking skills through math and memory games, puzzles and spatial reasoning activities; promote nurturing skills such as digital pets; and reinforce creative skills, such as drawing and music.
This presents both challenge and opportunities for families. Smart phones and tablets are powerful handheld computers, which come with completely unfiltered access to the Web.
Although there is no clear answer as to when a child should get his or her first smart phone, experts agree that safety is paramount when a child does eventually get one.
The digital footprint a tween or teen makes in adolescence will follow them into adulthood – as kids join social networks and explore the digital world, parental involvement is critical to help them stay safe and demonstrate responsible social behavior. The risks of over-sharing information on social sites can lead to embarrassment, identity theft, privacy problems, bullying and more.
Parents also need to remember that they are their children’s primary role model for safe and responsible smart phone use – so be sure never to text and drive and put away the devices to prioritize family and face time.
There are many good articles available online to help you decide if your child is ready for a smart phone, as well as guidelines to help keep them safe. Here’s an interesting one to get you started.