Last Updated: August 8, 2020

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To give or not to give! This is perhaps one of the biggest questions the 21st Century parent has to deal with in regards to phone use and acquisition by children. When should they begin to use, let alone acquire mobile phones for kids? And anyway, should they purchase these shiny little devices in the first place?

But again, does the question even make sense? The current Generation Alpha and Z kids are born right inside technology, and the smartphone flash is only the first sign of things to come.

When the chance presents itself – a few months later, they learn to place the phones next to their ears and happily swipe through photo and video libraries. The smile on their faces is captivating and as much as we want to grab the phone away from them, somehow we relent. From then on, the interaction molds into a  permanent lifestyle.

The Statistics!

In a 2019 report by Common Sense Media, 53% of kids in the US alone own mobile phones by the time they are 11. The number is 69% by the time they turn 12. And not to forget the little ones, a whopping 19% of 8-year-olds now own mobile phones.

In a SellCell survey, 42% of the kids spend 30+ hours a week on cell phone use, and 57% of them use this time to play games.

In the report by Common Sense Media, the much younger children actually love technology because they want to watch videos:

Since 2015, the percentage of young people who say they watch online videos “every day” has doubled, to 56% from 24% among 8- to 12-year-olds, and to 69% from 34% among 13- to 18-year-olds. For tweens, it is the media activity they enjoy the most, with 67% saying they enjoy it “a lot,” up from 46% in 2015, when it ranked fifth in enjoyment. Time spent watching online videos also increased from 25 to 56 minutes a day among tweens, and from 35 to 59 minutes a day among teens on average. 

Tweens, Teens, and Phones

The big question then arises over the role of parents in facilitating mobile phone use for kids.

SellCell survey shows that 4 out of 10 parents willingly allow their children to use smartphones, so as to leave them to attend to other chores. 70% of parents also believe that smartphone use has a positive impact on child development.

A Leaf from Celebrity Parents

To take a leaf from a few famous people, according to Business Insider,

1. Bill and Melinda Gates

Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda did not permit their children to have cellphones until the age of 14.

2. Sundar Pichai

Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s 11-year-old son doesn’t own a cell phone — and the TV can only be accessed with “activation energy.”

3. Steve Jobs(RIP)

In Steve Jobs’ household, dinnertime was reserved for face-to-face conversation with his children — meaning no iPads or iPhones in sight.

4. Satya Nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and his wife Anu carefully negotiate what sites their children are allowed to go on, and for how long.

5. Alexis Ohanian and Serena Williams

Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian and tennis icon Serena Williams say they plan on limiting their daughter’s screen time as she gets older.

The Truth for Parents

The truth is, we cannot hide mobile phones from children, because they are integral to everything else in the 21st century.

Mobile phones for kids are necessary because,

  • they have to make phone calls to parents, siblings, and friends
  • they need to play games
  • they have to master technology early enough
  • they desire to watch videos on YouTube
  • they love taking pictures

Making Mobile Phones for Kids Safe

At the end of the day, it is all about making mobile phones safe to use to safeguard child health and general well-being.

Fundamental guidelines to fend off the dangers that come with tech can go a long way to ensure they walk the tech road safely until adulthood.

Parents should be focusing on controlling and neutralizing the negative effects instead of investing energy on when they should acquire these devices.

Parents should talk to children about the negative effects listed below:

  • Cell phones should not be placed close to the body, in the pocket or in bed to stay clear of electromagnetic energy fields (EMF) emissions
  • Possible EMF-related side effects may include cancer, ADHD, and obesity
  • The blue light emitted by electronic devices is known to interfere with sleep quality especially if tech engagement is done continuously before bedtime
  • Their mental development is affected with extended cell phone use since they develop a tendency to refer to technology other than their brains to solve mental tasks
  • The Atlantic reported in an article that young learners depression levels increase by 27% because of too much use of social media
  • Too much screen time will affect their posture when they bend their backs way too often
  • Too much screen time makes them addicts of some kind, just like smoking and alcohol addictions

Balancing Between Mobile Phones & Other Chores

Parents are charged with ensuring children do not abuse phones at the expense of physical wellbeing, both at home and in school. Physical activity outdoors may actually help reduce the time they spend bingeing on mobile phones.

Unstructured playtime is more valuable for a young child’s developing brain than is electronic media. Children younger than age 2 are more likely to learn and remember information from a live presentation than they are from a video.

Screen time and children

Equally true, plenty of physical activities outdoors facilitates better sleep in children at night. After playing hard during the day, they are mentally wired to sleep early and sufficiently.

Children should also not use technology at the expense of school assignments, domestic chores, and social responsibilities. These are crucial in preparing them for productivity, and teaching them real-life skills.

The Takeaway!

When all the right precautions are put in place, children will likely find less time to engage with mobile phones, and yet more time to accomplish useful tasks elsewhere. In the short and long run, the matter of age becomes less important.

Of course, your 1-year-old child will not need to own a smartphone, but the 10-year-old will feel it is a necessity.