Are Smartphones Damaging Kids?

Kids are getting their first smartphone at younger and younger ages.  The average age is now 10.3 years old.

Kids spend much of the day glued to their phone.  Here's what one student had to say.

"I spend most of my summer hanging out alone with my phone.  That's just the way my generation is.  We didn't have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones.  I think we like our phones more than we like actual people." 

Today's kids are being shaped by the smartphone and social media. The smartphone has radically changed every aspect of their lives.  They are growing up living on their phones.  This brings both positives and negatives.

Today's kids are growing up content to spent more time alone with their phone than at a party.  On the positive side, this means they are physically safer.  Not going out as much, they are less likely to get in a car accident, get drunk, engage in sexual activity, try drugs, etc.  Today's 12th graders are going out less than 8th graders did in 2008.  Kids' social life has shifted from in person to online.  The skating rink, basketball court, local hangout spot, etc. has been replaced by virtual spaces accessed by social media apps.

But on the flip side, there are negative effects.  There is mounting evidence that the smartphones we place in kids' hands are having a big effect on their lives.

Disconnect from parents.  You would think since kids are spending more time at home, that they would be spending more time with their parents.  But that is not the case.  Rather than talking with their parents, they are in their room...on their smartphone.  This can even bleed over into meal time, holidays, etc.  Rather than looking at their family, their face is in their smartphone.

Unhappiness.  Spending lots of time online has been connected to being less happy.  Kids who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56% more likely to say they are unhappy.  Those who spend 6 to 9 hours a week on social media are still 47% more likely to say they are unhappy.  And the more time kids spend on social media, the more likely they are to be depressed.  Kids who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27%. 

Loneliness.  Apps such as Facebook on smartphones promise to connect us to friends.  But data shows that kids who visit social-networking sites every day, but see their friends less often, are more likely to say they are lonely.  Feels of loneliness has spiked since 2013.  Whereas kids used to feel left out by not being invited to parties, hangouts, etc. - today they feel left out when not invited into a social media group.

Cyberbullying.  While boys tend to bully one another physically, girls tend to bully one another socially through online social standing and relationships.

Addiction.  Many kids sleep with their smartphone right beside them.  It's the first thing they look at in the morning and the last thing they see before going to sleep.  They use their phones so much that they can recognize an emoji expression, but not a real facial expression.

This doesn't mean we should pry the smartphones out of our children's hands.  It is a key part of our culture, business dealings and communication in a digital world.  But it does mean that we should help them set parameters and usage guidelines that will bring out the positives and decrease the negatives of having a smartphone.