Like many of you, my wife and I spend a lot of time discussing decisions we hope will give them the greatest chances for success in life.

So I was naturally drawn to a recent article in The New York Times called "What's the Right Age for a Child to Get a Smartphone?" In this informative piece, writer Brian Chen explores the dangers inherent to owning a device that--in a very short time--has become ubiquitous.

"The smartphone, after all, is the key to unfettered access to the internet and the many benefits and dangers that come with it," writes Chen.

"The topic is being increasingly debated as children get smartphones at an ever younger age. On average, children are getting their first smartphones around age 10, according to the research firm Influence Central, down from age 12 in 2012. For some children, smartphone ownership starts even sooner--including second graders as young as 7, according to internet safety experts."

Chen goes on to interview several internet safety experts, as well as analyze a number of studies on smartphone use involving children.

Some interesting highlights:

  • A survey of 70,000 children in the past 18 months found that, on average, sexting began in the fifth grade, pornography consumption began when children turned 8, and pornography addiction began around age 11.
  • A separate poll of 1,240 parents and children found 50 percent of the children admitted they were addicted to their smartphones.
  • The same poll found that 66 percent of parents felt their children used mobile devices too much, and 52 percent of children agreed. About 36 percent of parents said they argued with their children daily about device use.

The article mentions other dangers, like the possibility that smartphones inhibit the ability of a child's brain to control impulse. Additionally, a smartphone can become an addictive distraction that potentially introduces children to the world of online bullies, child predators, or sexting.

The conclusion.

In the end, the experts Chen spoke with ranged in their advice: Some recommended waiting until the age of 12 before handing a child their first smartphone, others felt 14 was a more appropriate age.

But they all seem to agree on one thing:

Despite the benefits these devices offer, the longer you can keep your children from owning their own smartphone, the better.

Of course, if you're a parent, the ultimate decision of when to bestow the responsibility of owning a smartphone is yours.

When that time comes, the experts interviewed in the article recommend setting strict rules for smartphone use--including a promise to never take nude selfies or try to arrange meetings with strangers. They also advocate keeping smartphones off the dinner table and out of the classroom.

And of course, appropriate consequences should be instituted for breaking the rules--and children should be well informed of these in advance.

How about my own family?

Let's just say my children are still a long way off from carrying their own smartphone. Which will give my wife and I just enough time to figure out how to handle the situation when it comes.

At least, that's what I hope.

Published on: Jul 21, 2016
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