Children and Teens’ use of Smartphones: How can we protect them?

Tue, 05/17/2016 - 16:17
smartphones, nyc, new york college, tech, technology

Smartphones allow young people to feel constantly connected during a stage of development when belonging and social identity is of upmost importance. They allow access to a wealth of information in seconds and their use in the classroom can even enhance learning and student engagement (when used for specific learning outcomes). However, along with these advantages there is also increasing evidence that using mobile devices may be associated with a wide range of negative outcomes for young people:

  1. The overuse of smartphones is often associated with lower academic achievement in young people (however a cause and effect relationship is not clear).
  2. Overuse is associated with distraction or “escapism” and thus not confronting and coping with problems in a healthy way may ensue.
  3. They may encourage selfishness and conflict. This may be because their use often results in the user not focusing on the people in the immediate environment, distracting them from the “here and now”. Conflict at school, in the home and in the workplace may increase. A study by Roberts (Baylor University) published in 2014 found that 60% of college students felt agitation when they could not have access to their phones. Another study, published in 2012 by Przybylski and Weinstein, indicates that the mere presence and visibility of mobile phones is associated with lower feelings of social intimacy.
  4. Existing mental health issues may be exacerbated by excessive smartphone use. For example, Social Anxiety may be exacerbated by the avoidance of full (face to face) social contact that smartphones facilitate. Frequent use is also associated with higher stress levels, sleep disturbances and depression. Furthermore, there is a well-established link between girls’ use of social media and low self-esteem and negative body image.

To summarize, whilst smartphones have brought about tremendous advances and opportunities in recent years – both inside and outside of the classroom - there is increasing evidence that regular respites from their use will benefit student learning and their overuse may not be so “smart” in terms of health and relationships. Here are some guidelines for “smart” use of mobile devices for children, teens and young adults:

  1. As a parent it is imperative that you are a positive role model for your child. Your children will do as you do, not do as you say, so stop checking work emails or Facebook posts during conversations.
  2. Provide clear rules about appropriate use of smartphones, explained to your child or teen with reasoning. Attempting to simply impose control or permissive parenting (being too laid back) is rarely effective. If your child is involved in agreeing the rules they are more likely to adhere them and they also need to be involved in agreeing what the sanctions for breaking the rules are.
  3. Negotiate and agree specific “detox” times of the day, or even areas of the house, where smartphones are banned. E.g. at the dinner table and in bedrooms. The latter is particularly useful as the bedroom is usually where studying takes place and the use of smartphones at bedtime can impair sleep quality.
  4. Consider asking your child’s school, relatives and/or the parents of friends for support. If they agree to the same guidelines for smartphone usage at their house they can back you up. After all, their best friend’s parent also feels irritated when their child or partner uses their smartphone in the middle of a conversation, and when being interviewed for a place at University checking Facebook during the interview is not likely to impress!

A. Svensson Dianellou, PhD

Head of Psychology Department, New York College