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Kids Need Smart Parents, Not Smart Phones

Published: 01 Jul 2013
Kids Need Smart Parents, Not Smart Phones

A few weeks ago my 13 year-old dropped her telephone… into the bath. There was a scream. Then tears. Then frantic attempts to open the phone and dry it out. Her panic slowly subsided and was replaced with hope as she attempted to restart the phone.

It didn’t work.

Several attempts followed throughout the evening, and the following morning, and after school, and during the next evening. Still nothing. The phone was dead – drowned.

The requests for a new phone started immediately. And we said ‘no’. Our daughter began to retreat into her quiet place, mumbling something about ‘my precious’ while rocking backwards and forwards, hugging her knees.

Our daughter had agreed to a ‘phone contract’ with us, much like the one made famous by a mum-blogger earlier in the year. She was pretty good with it, but blurred the boundaries from time to time – as evidenced by the fact that she was in the bathroom with her phone. I mean, seriously… do you really need your phone in the bathroom? After considering her need for a phone, we decided against it.

Needs vs wants

I’ll be the first to admit that there are times when it’s a little inconvenient that our daughter can’t be contacted. Instead of texting her we have to ring the school and ask that a message be sent to her classroom. Sometimes we wonder where she is, and we can’t call to find out. But since this is a rare occurrence we decided that this was no justification for a phone.

What it really comes down to, though, is that we actually think our kids are better off without phones, i-pads (or tablets), or any other devices. Part of this comes down to our parenting philosophy. The thing is, it’s not a need. It’s a want. And it’s quite amazing… our kids really can survive just fine without the phone and computer. It makes sense though – I mean most of us probably survived until at least our twenties before we felt we needed a phone.

What does research say?

It’s not just a philosophical preference that keeps us from giving our daughter another phone with its attendant increase of screen time. It’s also based on research. There are some advantages to our kids having computer and smart phone access. Some data tells us that computer games can help kids with ADHDhand-eye coordination, and there are also some associations between computer use and literacy and numeracy skills in young children. There’s some reason to think that these advantages are applicable to smart phone and tablet use as well.

So it’s not accurate to say ‘computers, smart phones, and tablets are bad for kids and we shouldn’t have them.’ There are clearly some positive outcomes linked to their use. Besides, most parents recognise that their child’s familiarity with technology makes a difference for them at school. But research also tells us that too much screen time, or the wrong kinds of screen time, can have a strong negative impact.

  • First, there’s the debate (still ongoing) about whether phones are responsible for cancer, or not.
  • There’s also the question of how we are to deal with the addictive nature of the phone or tablet as ‘an appendage’ – the phone becomes the child!
  • Phones and tablets give our kids access to lots of games, including violent ones. Violent screen time is shown to cause violent behaviour
  • Phones and tablets (and computers generally) are time wasters. Our kids sit on their bums and play instead of getting off their bums to play. Excessive screen time has a negative effect on physical health
  • There are some who argue that links also exist between children’s mobile phone use and behavioural problems (withdrawal when phone off, anger), cognitive problems (always needing stimulation), and social problems (trouble connecting with people in the real world).
  • Excessive phone and tablet use is also related to lack of sleep, and high levels of fatigue.
  • Excessive phone use (and screen time) rewires our children’s brains. They become addicted to stimulation.

It boils down to this:

I just don’t think our kids need the phone… and I think the data points in that same direction.

I do think they need opportunities to be kids, to be curious about the world they live in, they need to learn how to have a few rich relationships, and to learn to talk with a person face to face. They need to get at least an hour of vigorous activity each day. They need to be bored, to read real books, and to climb trees, ride bikes, or swim or run. And they don’t need helicopter parents ringing them several times a day ‘just to check that you’re alright’.

If you can’t bear to leave your children without a phone, get a cheap phone that does talk and text only. Have it as a ‘loan’ phone for those times where you think it’s absolutely necessary. It’s cheaper, safer, and doesn’t come with all of those other side effects.

Ultimately, our kids need smart parents, not smart phones.

What do you think? Are kids today in need of a phone? Or should they be able to survive without one?

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