Psychologists want parents to think twice before handing over their smartphones to their toddlers. Behavior that amazes parents, for example when your little one figures out how to swipe a finger across the screen to make magic happen, can have a massively detrimental impact on a child’s decision-making abilities later in life.
A 2015 consumer report shows that most American children get their first mobile phone when they are six years old. This shocks me. This is before what in psychology we call the age of reason, when a child enters a new state of logic and begins to understand the surrounding world — learning the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, justice and injustice. Now, with a phone in hand, these children are being catapulted into cyberspace before they are psychologically capable of making sense of it. We can’t even make sense of it yet.
We do know, though, that technology has changed childhood in innumerable ways. Cyberspace is where they are learning to read, doing their schoolwork, dressing up avatars, watching cartoons and meeting friends both fictional and real. A large US study of eight to 12-year-olds in 2014 found that a quarter reported using Facebook, even though you are meant to be 13 or older to be eligible to activate an account.
The psychologists and teachers behind the report concluded that the results were troubling: “Engaging in these online social interactions prior to necessary cognitive and emotional development that occurs throughout middle childhood could lead to negative encounters or poor decision-making.”
In other words, while your child may be able to physically handle a phone and have the motor skills to interact with a smart device, they don’t have the thinking skills or emotional development to fully process what they are encountering. This would seem like common sense to most parents, or so you’d think until you encountered the startling fact that 92% of children under the age of 2 have a social media presence created by their parents. They also have the communication delays and comprehension problems to go along with it.
Psychologists who study the impact of cyber usage on children have an uphill battle ahead of them when it comes to warning against the dangers screen media poses to healthy mental development. Most parents are willing to concede to the fact that children who sit too long in front of screens will be physically unhealthy. But when it comes to mental health, parents are at the receiving end of some seriously mixed messages.
Pop culture now revolves around smart watches, Bluetooth devices and phones in-hand at all times. But, really, are you going to let Kim Kardashian set the trend for your child’s psychological development? What’s scarier is the fact that educators advocate for the use of various forms of screen media in the classroom as young as kindergarten and even preschool levels. Technology and toy manufacturers play off the education vibe, luring parents into buying apps and devices that promise to teach their children everything from the alphabet to coding lingo. It would seem as if not exposing your child to smart technology is the equivalent of going against the trend.
No wonder Steve Jobs was into it.