by Amy Williams
While cell phones have been popular with kids for several years, smartphones are beginning to dominate the free time of both children and their parents. A recent study shows that one-fourth of children between the ages of two and five have smartphones, while over half of children between ten and thirteen years of age have smartphones.
Because smartphone technology is affecting the development of children like never before, it is essential for parents to consider whether or not having and using smartphones on a consistent basis will cause their children more stress in an already overstimulated world.
How Smartphones Increase Stress for Kids
Smartphones are always “on,” meaning that there is a constant source of activity and stimuli for kids to access. The beeping, ringing, text and colors can rob kids of their attention and cause stress in a variety of ways.
- Kids may feel that constant stress that they are missing out on something and feel that they need to constantly check different accounts on their phones.
- Children may not be physically or emotionally mature enough to handle the responsibilities that come with a smartphone and they can feel overwhelmed.
- Kids need to develop social skills through face-to-face interaction with others, and smartphones detract from that process in both the short-term and long-term.
- Children are robbed of the potential for reflection and intuitive thinking that solitude provides. If children can access a smartphone during any stretch of downtime, they don’t develop the skills to be alone and quiet, which can serve as valuable time to develop cognitive skills.
All of these situations together can allow a child’s stress to build to a breaking point, often not recognized until it is too late.
Can Smartphones Help Reduce Stress in Kids?
Smartphones also bring positive experiences to children and adults. Adults often provide their children with smartphones because they like the security that instant communication can bring. However, kids can also experience this feeling of safety as they can text or call their parents at any time.
Kids can also feel on par with their peers and learn how to function in a digital world. The smartphone can be used for learning and helping with homework wherever kids happen to be, including accessing stress-reducing curriculum as they are on the move in our increasingly mobile society.
Like other skills, theories, and philosophies, children need to be taught to take time to relax in solitude. Smartphones can contribute to the development of stress-reducing strategies, helping them create and use positive statements, practice controlled breathing, relax their muscles, and create visualizations. Children can also use smartphones to download and listen to relaxing music, helping them to take a mental time out.
Do Kids Need Smartphones?
When kids begin communicating with parents that they want smartphones, it is essential for parents to open a dialogue with kids about the issue instead of simply shutting it down. It’s important to go over from the start how, first and foremost, their smartphone use will be moderated and age-appropriate, and hearing out any ideas they may have within that context.
This kind of open conversation helps children to feel valued and encourages the development of an open, two-sided dialog, while making sure parenting concerns are at the forefront. Oftentimes children’s’ expectations of using or owning a smartphone are more compelling than reality, so opening a discussion rather than answering with a flat-out “no” can help them to understand this.
Smartphone Boundaries to Reduce Stress
Too much of any stimulus can cause stress in both kids and adults, including smartphone access. To ensure that kids aren’t spending too much time on their smartphones, parents can incorporate the following boundaries regarding the use of electronic devices to help reduce stress in the home:
- The smartphone must be turned off while at school.
- The smartphone must be surrendered to parents by 6 pm each evening.
- Kids are not allowed to use the smartphone during scheduled downtime.
- Homework and chores must be completed before access to the smartphone will be given.
These and other family rules can help kids to maintain balance while learning how to function in our increasingly digital world.
My name is Amy and I am a former social worker, specializing in teen behavioral health. As a parent now, with two teenagers of my own, I am focused on spreading the word on positive parenting techniques and new technologies, particularly the combination of both topics.