Jacqueline Bast who is currently studying at the University at Buffalo, Germany, is our 1st runner up winning and amount of (winnings) Her topic: Is there an age for smartphones to be given to children?
A whole two years have I been begging my parents to buy me a cell phone. I was eleven years old when my classmates suddenly communicated with each other in a new, exclusive way – by sending back and forth 160 characters on a small, green-lit screen. But it was not before my thirteenth birthday when I finally unwrapped the 4 inches, thumb-wide, a shiny black flip phone that gave me access to the cool kids’ circle. Within the next ten years, technology has continuously made progress and fundamentally changed the devices. While my old flip phone could almost be referred to as an antique artifact – more than half of all children younger than high school graduate own not just any mobile device but a smartphone, with age steadily decreasing.1,2
The question about the appropriate age of children to be given a is widely discussed in public and among researchers. This is due to the complexity of the subject. Smartphones are not mere toys which hold one specific function but rather keys to an (seemingly) uncontrollably large world. In this essay, I am going to elaborate the role of smartphones in kids’ lives to work out whether there is a specific age for them to receive one.
First, one must clarify the impact smartphones have on a child’s daily life. According to statistics, in 2016, about 207 million US residents use a smartphone, touch it 2,617 times a day on average and can choose of more than 2 million applications provided to facilitate their lives in any manner.3,4,5 These numbers show that children are confronted with the ubiquitous technology anywhere – at home, in school, in public places and by the media. Therefore, preventing them from smartphones, in general, is simply impossible and, simultaneously, makes them more desirable.6 Instead, children should be taught to use them appropriately.
Since the original, primary function of mobile phones was short, written communication, many proponents justify early smartphone usage with the possibility to be permanently accessible regardless of location.7 This means that parents can reach out to their kids easier and get hold of them if needed.8 Likewise, children can contact someone in case of an emergency. For this purpose, a simple mobile phone would be sufficient. However, a smartphone integrates a myriad of more technological features that can turn a higher control into a loss of control. A smartphone can be distinguished from other mobile devices through features like touch screens, hardware sensors and wireless data access and applications.9 In fact, some call it “the key to unfettered access to the internet”.10 This terminology already points out the lack of control and risk it poses. On the internet, kids are exposed to the violent, sexist and discriminating content. Researchers found that 33.8 per cent of middle and high school students in the US have been victims of cyber bullying in their lifetime.11 I would like to bring in an anecdote, that I was once told. If you open a window on the World Wide Web – not only you get to look through it, but everyone else can watch you, too. The superficial anonymity and lack of privacy in the virtual world is a far greater danger than children might realize at early age.
Nevertheless, children can learn digital behavior and thus reduce the risks stated above. This even opens positive, educational possibilities. For one thing, parents can make their offspring familiar with technology and carefully explain risks as well as benefits.12 By this, kids can grow up being able to understand, adapt and critically reflect their own behavior and its consequences. Secondly, electronics can serve as motivators.13 Therefore, a parent can reward or punish other conduct by making smartphone usage a privilege.
When discussing a child’s access to a smartphone, obviously the time spent with this device is essential, too. Just like any obsessive use, smartphone usage can turn into an addiction. In fact, those devices are intentionally created and designed in a way that is appealing to kids because they have access to a whole colorful, tempting world at the click of a button and thus fail to teach moderation or impulse-control.14 The American psychotherapist Dr. Nicholas Kardaras even goes as far as to describe screen time as “digital heroin for children”.15 Just like specifying an age for children to be given a smartphone, the time spent with it is similarly difficult.
The problem with excessive use is not exclusively the time spent on the smartphone itself, but rather the content, as explained above, and the time children equally lose for interacting socially in real life. Face-to-face interaction is needed for emotional development as well as interaction with actual physical objects is strengthening visual–spatial processing.16,17 If this is prevented, smartphone usage can indeed have a negative impact on youth development and social behavior. However, researchers at Oxford University found the use of gadgets had a positive impact on teenagers since they reached the peak of their mental well-being after nearly two hours screen time.18
This controversy points out a very important aspect: Smartphone usage cannot be generalized. Neither can the perfect amount of time nor a universal age be defined. All those statistics display risks and benefits one should keep in mind when conducting the debate himself, but their significance varies from child to child. Parents know their kid’s character better than researchers and should therefore identify specific risks and potentials on an individual basis. If in doubt, they can use a control application which allows monitoring the activity of another device.19 While some pediatricians advise against giving smartphones to children younger than sixth grade, their arguments provided are less related to the age, but rather to the assumed low level of development and reason.20 One can conclude, that younger children who are already advanced in their development might well display a reasonable and beneficial digital behavior. A moderate and limited exposure time, parental involvement and a high awareness of risks are more decisive for the possession of a smartphone than a simple number. Works Cited (Endnotes)