June 20, 2024

Opinion: why kids shouldn’t have access to smartphones

The ever-burgeoning proliferation of smartphones throughout the world has led to their adoption in droves by several segments of society, including young children and adolescents.

According to a study published by the Child Health Evaluation and Research Center, “53% of children have a smartphone by age 11,” with the percentage increasing to a staggering 95% for teens and young adults.

The study notes that the widespread adoption of cellular devices “comes at a critical stage of cognitive, emotional and social development” where children are at a transitional period between childhood and adulthood. The proliferation of smartphones at this stage has led to a growing number of concerns regarding the impacts of excessive screen time on the cognitive and social developments of adolescents.

Two students using an iPad in a classroom environment. Photo by Brad Flickinger.

UNESCO’s 2023 Global Education Monitoring Report states that excessive screen time among children has negatively affected their diets, sleep cycles and mental health. Another study cited by the report notes that 40% of adolescents in the United Kingdom suffer from back and neck pain due to excessive computer and tablet usage.

Given that device usage among children has only increased with time, it is likely that the mental and physiological effects of excessive screen time will likely affect a much larger segment of the adolescent population in the near future.

There’s also the concern that the proliferation of smartphones might impact the social development of children. Since smartphones are essentially miniaturized computers with easy access to the internet, there’s the risk that children may find themselves glued to their phone screens while eschewing important childhood developments like forming social milieus or participating in outside play. 

Likewise, their adoption by children also runs the risk of affecting their education. UNESCO’s report notes that various studies conducted in Belgium, Spain and the United Kingdom have shown “banning mobile phones from schools improves academic performance, especially for low-performing students.”

A report published by the National Center for Education Statistics has shown an unprecedented decline in math and reading scores since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. 

The correlation between screen time and poor academic performance is largely linked to the distractions afforded by mobile devices. UNESCO’s report states that “the decline is mostly linked to increased distraction and time spent on non-academic activities during learning hours. Incoming notifications or the mere proximity of a mobile device can be a distraction, resulting in students losing their attention from the task at hand. The use of smartphones in classrooms leads to students engaging in non-school-related activities, which affects recall and comprehension.”

Of course, curtailing the negative effects of device usage requires a reassessment of how children are exposed to technology.

A blanket ban on smartphone ownership for people under the age of eighteen may present an effective solution, yet it’d likely be rejected by the general public. Such a policy may also pose the question of what exactly constitutes an individual’s right to private property.

A more realistic way forward would be to encourage parents to avoid buying their children any mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets, since this issue often starts at home. Information regarding the risks of screen time for children can be disseminated in various social media websites frequented by parents, especially Facebook. It may also be prudent to encourage pediatricians to foster discussions about the topic with their patients and their parents.

Author

  • Marvin Wurr

    Marvin is a third-year English literature major. In his free time he enjoys hanging out with friends at bars and watching straight-to-DVD action flicks.

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