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Children with Smartphones: An Epidemic or the New Norm?

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Credit: Tony McNeill, 2011,
Wikimedia Commons 


When I look back fondly on my childhood, I mostly remember playing outside, making  

‘potions’ with mud, leaves and mum’s shampoo, and playing hide-and-seek with my neighbourhood friends. On occasion, I would use devices like my Nintendo DS or I would watch the TV with my sisters. 

It wasn’t until well into my teens that I owned a smartphone and had access to social media. 


Fundamentally, the memories spent out of the house, away from screens, and into the outside world, are what bring me a sweet sense of nostalgia from my younger years. 


This makes me wonder, with our rapidly expanding technological world, do children nowadays have the same outdoorsy childhoods that post-smartphone children had? 


In essence, I want to explore whether kids' owning phones is becoming a harmful reality, affecting the young generation's mental health and well-being, or is now a vital and beneficial tool to navigate our modern world. 


I want to first look into the average age of kids owning phones in the UK.


Statistics have shown that in 2023, 17% of children aged 3 to 4, 20% aged 5 to 7, and 53% aged 8 to 11 own a smartphone in the UK. 


This influx of young children owning a smartphone is greatly different from when I was growing up where it was extremely rare for 3 to 11-year-olds to have smartphones and technological advances were still in their embryonic stage. 


Furthermore, the surge of young children owning phones has permeated itself into school settings. For example, it has been found that “86 per cent of school children now have their own phone, and that includes 28 per cent of 8 to 11-year-olds.” 


It is important to investigate how the increase of young children having phones, affects them in either a positive or a negative way. 

Has the fact that primary school children have phones affected their education or does it allow them to gain more freedom, and simultaneously give their caregivers peace of mind?


Let us look at the reasons for not giving young children phones. Research, concerned parents and disgruntled school teachers point towards the bad effects of smartphones on young children as social media, physical health and distractions from learning can pose a threat to a child's development.


To look into how smartphones may have adverse effects on young children, it has been established that social media has negative effects on somebody’s “self-image and [leads to] an increase in self-harm.” 


Based on this piece of information, it begs the question, should young children be able to have access to material that could possibly harm their mental health and such a young age? 


It has also been confirmed as “research has shown that susceptibility to social influence is at its highest in last childhood (approximately 8-10 years)”. Toxic and harmful material seen on our social media platforms can be most influential to young children if they come into contact with it. 


Additionally, English teacher and writer Lola Okolosie stated that she is ignoring her ten-year-old son’s begs and pleads to own a smartphone. She goes on to state how they have a detrimental impact on children’s mental health and wants to do her best to protect her son. 

She believes that at such an early stage of life, he is not emotionally mature enough to access the information available on smartphones. 


Not only does mental health become badly affected through the use of smartphones, but our physical health equivalently gets damaged. 


Have you ever been scrolling on your phone whilst the clock goes from two am to three am and before you know it, it is nearly the time you need to way up? In @asapSCIENCE’s video, they talk about how phones impact our health, especially how they can disrupt our sleep. Being on our smartphones before bed has an effect on our circadian rhythm and reduces melatonin levels (our sleep regulator hormone). This causes long-term health problems and 


The video concludes with “there is no denying that [smartphones] are changing us”. 

Whether this change is good or bad, the idea of children who are still developing mentally and physically having access to devices that modify our brain function scares many parents and guardians in the UK and across the globe. 


Lastly, due to the addictive nature of smartphones, education and learning can be affected due to a young child becoming distracted. It is said to be “difficult to control kids’ usage as tech companies compete with each other for [the child’s] attention.” This issue can lead to the child’s intelligence declining due to the lack of focus on their education. 


All in all, with the expansive information situated within our smartphones, whether that's harmful videos, social media posts, or even the physical effect of the device itself, there is a considerable amount of backlash against allowing a young child to own a smartphone. 


To move onto the positives of young children owning a smartphone, many believe that having one is important for children in this technologically advanced world. 


Firstly, some parents, guardians and teachers believe that young children owning smartphones is useful for the child’s safety. “Some schools insist that children who travel to and from school independently have their own phones.” The child can then easily get in contact with their caregiver if they are in danger. 


Other arguments suggest that if a young child does not own a smartphone, they could be left out by the other children who own them. Phones are shown to help socialise and build friendships with others. Essentially, by children owning phones, they will integrate with the social norms. 


Furthermore, young children owning smartphones can be both beneficial for the child (for safety reasons) but also good for the parent. For example, if there has been a time change in their child's extracurricular activities, the parents will be able to have easy communication with them and to know their whereabouts. 


Essentially, a child having a smartphone means a parent with less worry.  


To conclude, the ongoing argument between young children owning and not owning phones is a central topic in today's modernised world. All in all, the decision narrows down to the individual; the parent or caregiver holds the main verdict on whether their child can have a smartphone or not.


Many argue that society's technological advancements are constantly expanding, presenting valuable opportunities for the younger generation. Embracing these advancements can not only ensure their safety but also facilitate their integration into this rapidly evolving world. Unlike older generations, who were often distant from such innovations during their childhoods, today's youth have the chance to leverage technology as a tool for adaptation and empowerment.


Some others will disagree and believe that smartphones will have negative effects on children down the line. They believe their mental health, physical health and intellect will deteriorate the earlier they own a smartphone.


It begs the question, what would you decide regarding your own children? From these findings, I know that I am on the fence as both arguments bring forth good reasoning. However, a part of me still wishes that my future children have a rich and nature-filled childhood like I once did.

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