Mobile Phones for Kids in ever younger Age?

Mobile Phones from an earlier Age and without Parental Supervision: Should the first Contact begin this Way?

Little child using smartphoneWe say with laughter that children are no longer born with bread under their arms, but with a mobile phone, but perhaps the exaggeration is less and less. Smartphones and tablets represent a much more accessible and intuitive source of entertainment than a computer, and developers have been kind enough to fill Stores with apps for children. At what age does interaction with electronic devices begin? And, on the other hand, at what age should it start?

A little over a month ago we were discussing this issue as a result of a survey conducted by Internet Matters about whether or not there is a minimum age for access to electronic devices and also what that age was according to the staff interviewed. In this case it was a sample of 1,000 parents of children between the ages of 8 and 11 in the United Kingdom, and for 84.6% of the cases they thought it would be convenient for the minimum age to exist, and for it to be from 9 to 11 years old.

This age is far from what has been seen in another study, this time carried out on a sample of the population from Philadelphia, United States. In this case, the New York Times echoed the conclusions, among which was the fact that in 75% of cases children aged around four had access to some electronic device (tablets, smartphones or mp3 players) without parental supervision.

Doctors don’t hate them, but they suffer from them

As was the case in the first case, this is not representative data for society in general, in fact in this case it is local (it was carried out on 350 families who responded to the questionnaire while attending the Einstein Medical Centre in Philadelphia). But even so, it fits in with the 2013 U.S. Common Sense Media nationwide, which showed that 72% of children up to age 8 used one of these devices, almost double the percentage in 2011 (38%). In one-third of these cases the child even drives two devices simultaneously.

When they use one of these devices, they sometimes don’t even respond, yet they do react aggressively if the terminal is removed.

Today there are children of increasingly younger ages (even with months) handling electronic devices. Sometimes they don’t even respond as much to their parents, but that they do react aggressively if the terminal is removed.

In Ever Earlier Age

We see that the average age of access to electronic devices varies, but what they seem to coincide with is that each time this moment comes sooner. We have already seen this in the case of the United States, and in Europe the average initial age of using these devices for the first time is around 2 and 3 years according to a study.

It was made from a sample of 1,800 European children up to 10 years old and adolescents from 11 to 14 years old, analyzing the relationship of minors to the current situation regarding the presence of devices such as tablets or mobiles. We saw aspects such as their use, their implication in privacy, as well as their reactions when they disconnect from the devices.

As for having a mobile phone of their own (whether new or inherited), at the age of 10, 30% of children already had a terminal, almost 70% at age 12 and 83% at age 14. And whether it is a mobile phone or any other device at home or elsewhere, something that has been decisive for the devices to extend to more and more ages is the fact that, after a normalization of the Internet for years now, we live in a state of permanent connection.

At the age of 10, 30% of European children already have a terminal, almost 70% at the age of 12 and 83% at the age of 14.

Also read: When Should Your Child Get a Smartphone

The Utility: For Relaxation or for Entertainment

As you might think, for children the most frequent uses are the apps of games and those that contain or show videos such as those of television networks or YouTube. These uses are reflected in both studies, and in the one carried out in Philadelphia they also qualified that some access the photo gallery without problems and review it and that the daily use of the mobile or tablet is already habitual in the majority of children of 2 years old.

Obviously there are variations with age. This is what is reflected in a study in which the sample covered up to 14 years, with which we also see the uses during the early years of adolescence. In this case the most common uses between the ages of 11 and 14 are instant messaging, photos and videos (making and sharing them), listening to music and searching for information, the less frequent being calls and e-mail.

The fact of not having WhatsApp translates into the adolescent feeling of being absent, unaware of what is happening in the group.

As for the majority, talking about messaging is basically talking about WhatsApp. The app is used in 76% of the cases between 11 and 14 years old (as opposed to the percentage in which they make phone calls, 29%) and the fact of not having it translates into the feeling of being absent, alien to what happens in the group, something related to what we saw when talking about the fear of disconnection for social reasons, which is beginning to be called with the acronym FoMO as we saw.

Regarding parents, mobiles and tablets are the new Tetris. That is to say, remembering those portable consoles with this game that already constituted a reward to a good behavior or a resource to mitigate one not so good for example in a waiting room, situation that can be eternal for child and tutor. With the years the mobile has made the times of these portable consoles (bridging the distances), being something effective and quickly.

This, the easy resource, is reflected in the studies we saw and we can see it directly in situations such as a queue or the one we mentioned from the waiting room. In the case of Philadelphia it reflects that in most of these situations the parents try to distract them while they are doing the household chores or to reassure them when they are in public.

What Doctors Recommend

There are two basic aspects to consider at the age at which children begin to introduce electronic devices into their routines. On the one hand, there is the influence on their cognitive development and, on the other, the fact that, since it is a contact that they will have with almost 100% security from a certain age, it is convenient to start it relatively soon and with certain guidelines.

The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) initially recommended total screen abstinence in children under two years of age, but subsequently softened this warning so that it was not a total absence, but a restriction by schedule with attention to the contents on the part of the parents.

That is to say, taking into account what the child uses, in a way that favors interaction and not as an easy resource to calm them if they become nervous.

According to a Doctor we spoke to, early use can affect language development, encourage sedentary activity and encourage parents to distract their attention.

For our interviewed Doctor, the first access to the devices by children in their first years of life is of great importance due to the cerebral, cognitive and emotional development that occurs until the age of 3. He cites in his article that the early use of screens (in reference to tablets and mobiles) can affect the development of language, encourages sedentary activity and favors parents to distract their attention, citing the publication that we linked when we mentioned the AAP.

Psychologists are alarmed at the outcome of the study, the direct consequences on children’s social development if certain behaviors are solved by putting them in front of a mobile device.

We simply don’t know what the consequences of letting them stick to a digital treat will be.

Start early, but in a good Way

Thus, what can maybe be seen as something positive is the adoption or use of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) at earlier ages, given that there is still a closer bond between parents and children and they take them as a reference much more than during adolescence. And in this way to try that there is a learning of the possibilities of the network as well as of the recommendations regarding the safety and other aspects that otherwise they could mislearn or not learn directly.

What this study is proposing is, in fact, that children begin to familiarize themselves with the devices sooner and sooner, as they become more receptive and also have access to the Internet. And by extension, to purify the use of the network that as a whole is still widespread both in older people from 30 and 40 years as in adolescents. That is to say, a more productive and creative use should be made, generating content and opinion beyond social networks, messaging or consultations with the media.

All this always with the supervision and participation of at least one of the tutors. In fact, educational apps can be a help as shown in Science magazine. Last month I published a study in which it was seen how first grade students using the Bedtime Math app along with their parents improved their math skills in a few months.

Expanding the Curriculum at Home School

Compiling what professionals generally think, in the face of this primary contact with the devices on the part of the smallest, it is more necessary than ever for adults to take up the role of referents in this matter. That is to say, that in addition to the first contact being started at a suitable age, it should not be something passive but an experience for both in which entertainment is also a way of learning.

What they also remember in the work of Protégeme is that, especially in children who are already aware of what the Internet is and who are beginning to become users, parents give them notions of the management of personal data and advise them on privacy and the use that the apps make of them. According to this study, at least 40% of children between the ages of 11 and 14 have sought information on how to protect their personal data in the absence of receiving this information from their parents.

In addition, we must not forget the consequences on various aspects of cognitive development depending on how long and how children use these devices. In this regard, the Philadelphia study showed that in 25% of cases parents stated that they let their children take the device to bed even if it causes sleep disturbances. Meaning: Children are brought to sleep in an environment that prevents them from falling asleep.

Therefore, what is important is that we are informed about the appropriate age to initiate this contact, which according to the different studies would be from 2 and 3 years, and that at least during the first years is a monitored activity, time controlled and with the active participation of parents. It is necessary to do homework well in order to know the best way to do it.