Parents tend to have a collective freak-out when you have kids and proceed to throw previously unknown technologies such as smartphones into the mix.
With 7 out of 10 children in Singapore owning one, smartphones seem to be the new-age pacifiers. Even toddlers who have barely learnt how to walk might already know how to use one!
A local study showed that 12-year-olds in Singapore spend a whopping 6½ hours on electronic devices daily.
Every parent should spend time understanding the detrimental effects of smartphone addiction, and learn how to regulate your child's smartphone usage.
Here are 5 important reasons why giving your child a smart phone from a young age may not be the best idea:
1. Singapore has one of the highest rates of myopia in the world!
The number of Singaporean children donning glasses from a young age has been increasing exponentially.
With 7 out of 10 children suffering from myopia, Singapore has one of the highest incidence of this disease across the globe.
“Huh! You got perfect eyesight ah? Not wearing contacts meh?!”
Studies have shown a strong correlation between near work and myopia. We attribute it to our kiasu culture which forces our poor children into a life filled with assessment books and past-year papers.
It is quite clear that the use of smartphones is replacing outdoor activities, even during the child's recreation time. Such behaviour has greatly contributed to eyesight deterioration in growing children.
Worringly, it isn't just blurry vision that you need to worry about. Evidence has shown that having a degree of over 500 once you've reached the adult stage increases your chance of developing cataracts, glaucoma and myopic macular disease.
2. Young children are more susceptible to harmful radiation from smart phones
Smartphones emit microwave radiation (MWR). As adults, we tolerate it pretty easily, and they don’t affect us much.
Children, on the other hand, have thinner skulls and more absorbent brain tissue. These MWRs cause the degeneration of the protective sheath that surrounds brain neurons.
It is definitely possible to avoid these negative side effects. You should monitor smartphone usage and keep it a distance away from your child's vital organs most of the time.
3. Smart phone usage can affect cognitive development
“These devices may replace the hands-on activities important for the development of sensorimotor and visual-motor skills, which are important for the learning and application of maths and science,” said Radesky, from the Boston University School of Medicine.
There is some evidence that suggests that children, if exposed to too much smartphone usage at early ages, might suffer poorer academic performance in the sciences.
Beyond that, smartphones also take away valuable time for human interactions. These have been proven to be the best way to develop a child’s cognition and learning attitude.
4. Smart phones can result in poorer social development
It is easy to observe the profound impact smartphones have on the way kids today communicate. Take the time to go down to your child’s school during recess or lunch break. You might notice the children staring intently at the glowing screens in front of them, instead of talking to each other.
Texting and communication via social media is no substitute for real-life conversations. Cultivating a lack of desire to communicate with others in real life poses a significant threat to social development.
We wouldn't want our younger generations to risk turning out socially inept, incapable of maintaining proper eye contact, or clamming up every time someone asks them a simple question, right?
5. Children can easily become addicted to using their smart phones
There have been research out there linking media multi-tasking on your smartphone by texting, scrolling through social media and rapidly switching between smartphone apps to lower gray-matter volume in the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex (ACC).
The ACC is a part of the brain involved in the processing of emotions as well as decision making. Lower ACC volumes tend to be associated with depression and addiction disorders.
What’s more? Have you ever felt the feel-good sensation, when someone texts you or whenever you get a new notifications buzzing on your smartphone in the middle of a monotonous day?
Yep, that’s dopamine working its magic. Dopamine by itself is great. It's why we feel good after scoring an A on our last paper. It makes us feel amazing when we attain a hard-earned job promotion or raise. It’s what motivates us to study harder and work more.
However, when smartphones provide such an easy way for dopamine release, it messes with your risk-reward system. This is what drives our compulsive device usage.
To worsen things, children tend to have a more hyperactive risk-reward system. So if you think smartphone addiction is an issue with adults, one can only fathom the possible horrors on a malleable, impressionable mind.
You will find it much harder to control your children's screen time, or even their behaviour in general, after they become addicted.
4 simple steps to reduce the harm to your child from smart phone usage
It’s clear that smartphone usage has numerous negative effects on young children.
Sure, smartphones allow parents the convinience of contacting their children in times of need. It also enables children to search for information independently and provides a platform for educational games.
However, if allowed unfettered and unfiltered use, it is doubtful whether children will use smartphones productively as initially intended. I know many working adults, even myself, fail to do so.
So what can we do? Don’t take it from me, take it from tech gurus Bill and Melinda Gates with some guidelines they’ve offered:
1. No phones until your kids are 14
14 isn't necessarily the magic number, but it serves as a good guideline and age parameter set roughly around the time your kid can understand self-control. At this juncture, they will also have a less malleable mind that might have otherwise easily succumbed to smartphone addiction. Furthermore, much of their emotional and social abilities would have already been developed.
2. No phones during meals or family time
One of the biggest reasons why we don’t want our children to own smartphones is because these devices are a distraction from quality time with friends and family. Children should be learning how to socialise face-to-face, rather than from behind a screen.
3. Limit screen time
Limiting the amount of time spent on smartphones isn’t just good for your children’s eyes, but it helps reduce the chance of addiction. Consider using apps such as Norton Family Premier or PhoneSheriff to control your child’s screen time and access to potentially addictive apps.
4. No social media under the age of 13
If you are still considering getting your child a smartphone, make sure that your child doesn’t get access to social media from too early of an age.
Ultimately, it’s hard to manage the inevitable need to get your child a smartphone in this day and age despite our efforts to delay this. We should view it not as a matter of whether they should have a smartphone or not. Instead, we should learn when, and how, to intiate this process the best way possible.
Teaching your child discipline and self-regulation from the beginning is key to helping them transition into the smartphone generation. This would prevent impairment of their social, emotional and cognitive development that could have lasting effects into their adult lives. That would be a Black Mirror nightmare!
- Slater A et al. More than Just Child's Play?: An Experimental Investigation of the Impact of an Appearance-Focused Internet Game on Body Image and Career Aspirations of Young Girls. J Youth Adolesc. (2017)
- Bentley, G. F., Turner, K. M., & Jago, R. (2016). Mothers' views of their preschool child's screen-viewing behaviour: a qualitative study. BMC public health, 16, 718.