Smartphones can be hazardous to your health – especially if you are a child. Smartphones are the latest challenge for parents. Are they really safe?
Here are just a few of the hazards of giving children smartphones:
- Video game addiction
- On-line bullying – sometimes leading to suicide
- Predatory strangers
- Compromised school performance
Betsy Morris, reporting in The Wall Street Journal, says, “When to allow children a smartphone has become among the most pivotal of parental decisions in the decade since Apple Inc.’s IPhone remade daily habits.”
Here are some alarming statistics:
- Nearly 75% of teenagers have access to smartphones (2015 Pew Research Study)
- They unlock the devices about 95 times per day on average (research by Verto Analytics)
- They spend close to nine hours/day tethered to their screens (research by Common Sense Media)
Parents need to understand that the companies that produce smartphones make money, not just when you purchase the phone, but when your child uses the phone. The more time your child spends looking at the phone, the more money they make. To encourage more use these companies produce algorithms that track what sites users frequent and then steer them toward similar sites as much as possible.
Morris says the goal of companies like Facebook, Google, Snapchat, and others is to create or host captivating experiences that keep users glued to their screens, whether for Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat or Facebook. The business model is so simple even a child can understand it; the more screen time, the more revenue.
As a result, “average time spent” is a tech-industry metric that drives advertising rates and stock prices. Snapchat users 25 and younger, for example, were spending 40 minutes per day on the app, Chief Executive Evan Spiegel said last August. Alphabet Inc. (owner of Google) boasted to investors recently that YouTube’s 1.5 billion users were spending an average 60 minutes a day on their mobile devices.
These companies are now targeting children younger than ever. The number of YouTube Kids users is soaring. Facebook recently launched a new messaging app called Messenger Kids, which is aimed at children as young as six years old. Despite the parental controls provided by these apps, many parents are overwhelmed.
Children can be relentless in pressuring their parents to conform with what other parents are doing. Parents feel guilty if their children seem “deprived” of this modern technology their peers are enjoying. Many parents are in denial, believing whatever their children tell them about their smartphone usage.
Children set up Instagram accounts under pseudonyms that friends but not parents recognize. Some teens keep several of these so-called “Finsta” accounts without their parents knowing. An app called Secret Calculator looks and works like an IPhone calculator but actually doubles as a private vault to hide files, photos and videos. Another app called Photomath allows users to point an IPhone camera at an algebra problem and the app solves it.
What price do children pay when parents give in?
Morris says serious troubles loom when parents give in. From the exchange of sexually explicit photographs or messages – which experts refer to as modern day flirting – to what the American Psychiatric Association calls “Internet Gaming Disorder” among gamers unable to pull away from their screens.
The problems many children face when they become regular smartphone users can be deadly. About 16% of the nation’s high school students were bullied online in 2015 according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Children who are cyber-bullied are three times more likely to commit suicide, according to a study in JAMA Pediatrics in 2014.
The decision to allow your child to have a smartphone must be taken seriously. Allowing a child to have a smartphone opens them to a whole world of influence parents cannot control. As a parent, are you willing to take that risk?
(For more information, read the full article by Betsy Morris by clicking on the link to The Wall Street Journal.)