What you need to know:
- According to Pew Research Centre, the average age for gifting one’s child with a phone is between 12 and 13 years.
- According to another study, on average, a child gets his or her first smartphone at 10.3 years old.
- That same study shows that by age twelve, 50 per cent of children have social media accounts.
- Setting and maintaining reasonable boundaries around technology is a fundamental part of parenting.
My son has been begging me to buy him a phone, but I am apprehensive about it, given the negative effects of technology. What's the right age to buy him a phone? He is six and keeps comparing himself with the neighbour’s children who have phones.
You ask a crucial question which many parents normally ask child therapists, “What's the right age to buy a child a phone?” According to Pew Research Centre, the average age for gifting one’s child with a phone is between 12 and 13 years. The study adds that this can vary from child to child based on maturity and need.
According to another study, on average, a child gets his or her first smartphone at 10.3 years old. That same study shows that by age twelve, 50 per cent of children have social media accounts (primarily Facebook and Instagram).
Your child at six years is in his middle childhood and cognitively has difficulty taking the views of others. Convincing him to take contrary views requires a structured coaching for him to appreciate imminent dangers of technology and the need to delay heavy use unless it is instructional or for certain defined purposes.
In an interview with The Mirror, Bill Gates said he did not let any of his children get their own phone until they were 14 years old. Gates is joined in this assessment by James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, a non-profit that reviews products and content for families. In the Steyer household, children have to be in high school before they can get a phone -- after demonstrating they can exercise restraint and understand "the value of face-to-face communication."
As you can see, the masterminds of technology chose to delay providing technological gadgets to children until they had developed life skills for healthy interactions and self-regulation.
Setting and maintaining reasonable boundaries around technology is a fundamental part of parenting. Analytics firm Flurry says American consumers spend 5 hours a day on mobile devices. 45 per cent of three hundred and eighty (380) high school students in the central region of Kenya who attended a Christian conference in December 2019 admitted to using their phones seven hours in 24 hours. Considering how many hours a day this budding human brain will spend staring at that screen, it's worth putting serious thought into what age is appropriate to get a mobile device. Practical questions to ask yourself before giving a child their first cell phone include:
Does your child "need" to be in touch for safety reasons--or social ones?
Can your child understand the concept of limiting time on the phone for his/her holistic health and development?
Can he/she be trusted to use the phone responsibly?
You appreciate technology has its own dangers and you are careful not to cause your child harm from it. But at the same time, you are worried you are not responding to your child who has been begging and comparing himself with your neighbour’s children who already have phones. Your child might develop low self-worth due to feeling denied and hence the matter is dicey.
However, you can help your child to appreciate the dangers of using cell phones at his age and avail a phone at home he can use if there is need to call or use the phone. Human beings are very interesting, when they are explained pertinent issues with love, they stop personalising such issues and they are able to make decisions that are self-preserving.
Dangers of technology are many-sided including impairment in the development of a child's social skills. Again, a child may avoid social interaction to spend more time using electronic devices or may use the device to avoid social situations due to social anxiety because of underdeveloped social skills.
Equally, overuse of technological devices can also affect a child's mental health. Studies have shown that children who regularly use the Internet and play video games exhibit more anxiety and depression.
Hence, use of such technological devices in terms of content, duration, frequency, and the posture they adopt while using them pose a variety of health risks, including developmental problems, musculoskeletal problems, physical inactivity, obesity, and inadequate sleep quality.
Changes cognitive processes
Studies show that exposure to technology changes cognitive processes and ability to take in information. Unlike an adult's brain, a child's brain is still developing, and as a result, malleable.
When children are exposed to technology at high rates, their brain may adopt an internet approach to thinking – quickly scanning and processing multiple sources of information.
Hence, be careful about introducing technological devices to your child when in formative stages without a “How to Use Protocol” and structured supervision on your part.