For a couple of years now, I’ve been writing regularly about why parents should not give their young kids smartphones. I know I may sound like a broken record, but the truth is, we don’t need to give our young kids more opportunities to be impulsive, foolish, or distracted from the things in life that actually help them learn and grow, such as outside play, interpersonal relationships, and reading books. The truth is, kids smartphones are simply unnecessary.
Of course, when I’m spouting this strong opinion, I love to have some expert testimony to back it up, so I was intrigued when I saw an article today in which a British psychiatrist plainly asks parents not to give their kids smartphones until at least “secondary school,” which in Britain is the equivalent to the American junior high and high school, seventh through twelfth grades.
Dr. Jon Goldin says parents should be officially advised not to give their kids smartphones before junior high.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph in Great Britian, Dr. Goldin said that “social media makes children anxious and depressed, and time spent online can leave them vulnerable to cyberbullying.” He even called on the government to officially advise parents to not give their kids smartphones until secondary school. He said that though he doubts the government can enforce a law prohibiting them to do so, he feels the official advice from the government would “back parents up when they were having conversations with their 10-year-olds” about whether or not they should be allowed to have a smartphone. Goldin also said he thinks the government should recommend that young kids get no more than two hours a day on social media.
Now, I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of the government telling me how to parent, but I do think recommended guidelines from groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics on this topic would be a helpful thing for parents to look to when making decisions about their children and social media. I also think parents should make it very clear to their children that the parents make the rules and it is the parents’ responsibility to ensure their children are safe and healthy to the best of their ability. In this day and age, I believe that keeping your child safe and healthy includes restricting their smartphone and social media use.
Studies show kids’ smartphone use negatively impacts their emotions.
Dr. Goldin’s comments precede a new British study that is soon to be released from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which assesses the effects of children spending too much time online. 1,000 British parents were surveyed for the study, and 92% said they thought the internet was affecting their child’s behavior in a bad way. Um, YIKES. Their concerns ranged from kids smartphone use affecting their sleep to social media negatively impacting their self-esteem. Thought not specifically mentioned, I would also add that in my un-expert opinion, I think smartphone use and online relationships with their peers keep kids from forming true, healthy interpersonal relationships and negatively impacts their ability to learn to solve conflict through verbal communication.
In short, it’s too easy to be fake, partially honest, hide your true feelings or misunderstand someone’s tone of voice and intention through text and social media. And we’re about to have a generation of kids growing into adults whose relationships will suffer disastrous consequences because of it.
Don’t buy your kids smartphones because everyone else is doing it.
Parents, I encourage you to stand your ground on this issue. I know it’s tough when your child is the only one in his or her group who doesn’t have a smartphone because I’ve been there. But please, be willing to be the outsider for the sake of your child. Be willing to be the only parent who doesn’t allow Instagram or Snapchat. Be willing to be the only parent who reads all your kids’ text messages. It is hard, it is maintenance, it is work, but it is worth it.
I’ve used this analogy before, but if I don’t have a pool in my backyard, no one can drown in it. In the same way, if my son doesn’t have social media, he cannot be bullied, humiliated, and belittled on social media. He can’t be obsessed with likes, comments, etc. He can’t feel less than because everyone else’s highlight reels look so fantastic.
I’m encouraged that more experts like Dr. Goldin are chiming in to encourage parents to hold off on giving their kids smartphones. I can only pray that with expert advice like his and other parents using their voices as I have used mine, we can all come together and be brave enough to make the right, if unpopular, choices when it comes to our kids, smartphones, internet use, and social media.