As soon as you let your little one place a tiny finger on your smartphone, you have created an unsatiated need for your child to use it ALL. THE. TIME. I know, because I made the mistake of creating a YouTube monster. Passing your phone to your child may seem like an easy way to provide distraction while you attend to other things, but the lasting effects are not worth that load of laundry or sink full of dishes. Likewise, children are easily pleased so there are a multitude of other reinforcements you can offer for potty training or cleaning their room.
Luckily, I established control on the use of my phone from the very beginning, even setting a timer to restrict the length of time my daughter uses it. However, sometimes getting my phone back is a fight or tears are spilled when she is denied access. In the grand scheme of things, I wish I had known the detriments smartphone usage can have on young children, such as the following:
1. It’s addictive.
As an adult with a smartphone, you know this to be true. It’s so easy to lose oneself in videos and apps and it is no different for children. The more time you give them with your phone the more they will crave its distraction. This addiction could easily carry into their teenage years.
2. It strains the parent-child bond.
While you are not required to engage with your child 24/7, giving them a phone to use to keep them busy shuts the door completely on any engagement. How many times have you had to say your child’s name to get their attention while they played with your phone, just to ask them what they are doing? There’s no room for parent-child engaging when your little one is lost in YouTube Land.
3. It limits your child’s imagination.
Allowing your child to play games or watch videos on a smartphone does not present much opportunity for them to use their imaginations and develop complex thinking. There’s a reason toys and activities such as Mega Blocks, Playdoh and puzzles are time-tested and popular – they develop specific areas of the child’s mind for imagination and problem solving. Every minute your child spends on your phone that they are not engaging in real world playing is a minute lost to their brain development.
4. It affects their sleep.
The light emitted from electronic screens – smartphones, televisions, computers, tablets – simulates daylight and triggers the brain to go into awake mode. Once the brain is activated into a wakeful state it becomes more difficult for the body to fall asleep. It is recommended that electronics be shut off at least an hour before bedtime but the more time you can avoid them the better.
The point here is not to shock you or scare you from ever letting your child touch a phone – it is to simply make you aware of the risks you are taking when you depend on a phone to distract your child while you get things done.
As your child ages and begins to grow and develop, the risks of smartphone usage change and become more serious. They will begin to use the phone to communicate not only with friends but the outside world in general. This can have grave consequences:
They could lose the value of face-to-face communication.
You know as well as I do that it is easier to send a quick text than to give someone a call. Hopefully we have reached a stage of our own development where we have gained adequate face-to-face communication skills. Children and teenagers are still developing their social skills and being easily able to avoid being social can be detrimental.
They could engage in sexting or become the victim of an online predator.
If there’s one thing we know about teenagers is that they have poor impulse control. This could cause them to send inappropriate texts or pictures or engage with strangers online without thinking about their actions and potential consequences.
Phone usage could distract from important things like school work.
This goes without saying but phone usage can certainly detract their time and attention away from important activities.
It could lead to your child bullying or being bullied.
Not only is it easier to communicate electronically but it is also easier to say harmful and hurtful things when you are not face-to-face with the recipient of your words. A teenager with poor impulse control may use this form of communication to tease or torment and schoolmate. A teenager with poor self-esteem may fall victim to this kind of abuse.
Most parents do not consider future repercussions of allowing their little ones to play on their phone. The point here is not to shock you or scare you from ever letting your child touch a phone – it is to simply make you aware of the risks you are taking when you depend on a phone to distract your child while you get things done.
There are alternatives to passing your smartphone to your child, such as allowing them access to a tablet or computer. Most systems allow you to create individual profiles and certain software can help to restrict the programs and sites your child accesses. Tablets and computers are larger, harder to carry around and easily visible, so you can better monitor your child’s usage and even sit and engage with them while they watch videos or play games.
These facts may be chilling but it is best to be aware of the risks and make your decisions regarding your toddler and your smartphone accordingly. Always think about how what your child does today will affect them in the future.