“Don’t forget your lunch!” Timmy’s mom called. “I’ll see you after school.” Timmy had already slung his Superman backpack over his shoulders and was halfway out the door, but he turned around upon hearing his mother’s words. “Thanks, mom,” he mumbled as he took his lunchbox from the kitchen table. “You’re welcome, Timothy123,” Siri replied. That’s right, Timmy is being raised by an iPad.
Although children are not physically cared for by their electronic devices, they still spend so much time using them that one could argue that they have more interaction with people online than they do off. According to research firm Influence Central, the average age that children receive their first smartphone is 10, which is two years younger than it was in 2012. Additionally, children as young as 7 have been reported to have received smartphones.
The phones themselves aren’t the immediate issue—the calling and texting capabilities are similar to those in regular cell phones. The problem lies within the use of the internet and social media, and how they impact a child’s day-to-day interactions.
Social media often contains content that children have no need to be exposed to at such a young age. For example, Twitter has become a political platform. When I was 7, the 2008 election was taking place, and I didn’t have a smartphone to keep me updated on the progress of the election. It wasn’t important in my day-to-day life at that time, and it probably isn’t to any 7 year olds now.
However, it is the way that people use social media that seems most inappropriate for a young child. Children with smartphones have the ability to meet new people on social media, which is dangerous, but they also have the ability to tear apart their relationships.
Smartphones provide an outlet through which children can easily bully their peers. Over half of adolescents and teens have been involved in cyberbullying, according to bullyingstatistics.org. Oftentimes, people who engage in cyberbullying do not feel that it is a real interaction that is taking place, or that they are really hurting the other person. If this action becomes normalized for children online, it will become easier for them to apathetically bully their classmates in real life.
It is important for children to learn how to interact with people through actual face to face contact. Many layers of meaning do not exist in online conversations, such as tone, emphasis and social cues. Without being taught these things, the children would grow to be very socially awkward, and possibly even unable to navigate simple situations.
Smartphones are great tools that children can use and appreciate at the appropriate age. If given a smartphone too early, they may not have a use for all of its capabilities, have unsavory interactions with others online or have less real life interactions.