The Effects of Smartphones on Kids: Where to Begin?

A quick Google search about the effect of smartphones on kids and you’ll come up with several pages of how detrimental they are--everything from brain development to mental health. However, when you dig deeper you’ll find that the effects are wide ranging depending on the age of the child, and that there are even some benefits as well.

It is generally recommended that children under the age of 2 should not be using electronic devices at all. After that age screen time should be limited to one hour per day at a maximum, and never at the expense of going outside to play or any other social activity.

When children get older the regulations generally lift and that is when the families need to decide their approach to phone use. There are also standard rules in place thanks to COPPA, so many apps and social media sites require children to be 13 or over to sign up.

Many teenagers tend to use their smartphones for everything from social media, to email, to school work, and beyond. When investigating the effects of phones on them it is hard to pin down which problem is the most relevant. In reality, the physical phone is a merely a tool, a window into a world that exists entirely online. Picking up a phone isn’t doing harm, it’s how it is used that can tip the scales from it being a useful communication tool with some fun games to play, to a world of psychological drama and worse.

Of all the negative effects of phones on kids that are frequently cited, the harmful effects of social media and online video games are most reported by psychologists. The more detrimental effects on the brain are the dopamine fix which can lead to a literal screen addiction, and how the screen light can interrupt sleep patterns. All of these topics will be investigated further on the Latch Mobile blog, teasing them apart is necessary to get the complete picture.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom, some psychologists have noted some benefits to moderate smartphone use including increased ability in visual motor tasks like tracking objects and searching for items. Internet users also tend to use decision-making and problem solving brains regions more frequently, a skill that will aid in school work. In fact, several studies have cited that smart devices can be a benefit in school when used properly for research, note taking, and textbook use. So, when used in moderation for school, smartphones can have their place in high school.

With all of the concerns and negative effects it is still possible for children to be able to handle the capabilities of their smartphone. Parents and children need to be in constant conversation about maintaining healthy boundaries with their devices. This is easier said than done, but there are apps and services that can help do this. Parents also need to lead by example, a difficult task given that many are constantly tethered to work devices, and encourage conversations and activities that don’t require social media at all.

It is clear that smartphone use is here to stay, but the risks and rewards by giving them to our children will always be a mixed bag. It is up to parents and children to make their smartphone decisions as thoughtfully as possible. We'd love to hear your approach to smartphones at home, please take our Parenting in the Age of Smartphones Survey to share you your thoughts.