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Smartphones: Toy or Tool for Kids

Saturday, April 19, 2014

By Sheila Stinnett, LPC

Do you consider your child’s smartphone or mobile device a toy or a tool? With advances in technology a phone in the hand of a child is not just a hand held video gaming system. It is a functional computer just as powerful as the desk top computer setting in the corner of your home. This power reminds me of a quote from Spiderman “with great power comes great responsibility”. Parents who would never dream of allowing their child unsupervised access to their home computer often allow these same children to carry their phones with little or no supervision. 
I see kids of all ages everywhere I go on mobile devices, playing games in the checkout line, in physician’s waiting rooms and in the backseats of cars as they pass by. A 2013 survey, conducted by Common Sense Media, discovered over 30% of American toddlers 2 and under have used a tablet or a smartphone. Not only has this number more than doubled from a 2011 survey, the number of daily minutes that a children 8 and under spend on mobile devices has tripled from 5 minutes in 2011 to 15 minutes in 2013. 
The use of technology by toddlers is significant enough to have prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to issue a recommendation which states children under the age of two should not spend any time in front of media screens of any type, but spend time interacting with people. With current trends showing increasing numbers of children under the age of 13 utilizing mobile devices parents must prepare themselves and their children for the responsibility of having and using a mobile device. 

Children need to understand having and getting to use a mobile device is not a right but a privilege. The phone or tablet is owned by the parent and on loan to the child. The terms and conditions of this loan should be set and enforced by the parent. 
Privacy of passwords, contact lists and social media posts are not part of the deal. Parents should have access and control of what a child keeps on their phone. Periodic parental checks are a must regardless of how well you think you know your child. Contacts should include first and last names so when a parent reviews the contact list, he or she can ask about any new additions as well as have the information needed to block numbers if necessary.

Parents need to be firm in limiting the amount of time spent using a mobile device. Recent research conducted by Opennet discovered the more time a child spends on a mobile device the greater that child’s risks was for engaging in or being a target of inappropriate mobile activity. All devices should be turned in at bedtime, reducing the risk of unsupervised late communication, while allowing the parent an opportunity to review daily activity on the device. 

Safety rules and procedures about device usage should be discussed in depth with your child so there is no misunderstanding about your expectations for their behavior. Like any other device we teach our children to use, its misuse or abuse should result in the immediate loss of the device. 
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