A growing number of children have a smartphone, * and many of them use their phone to access the Internet in the privacy of their bedroom. What are the risks of letting your child have a smartphone? What are the benefits? How much screen time is too much?
What you should know
Safety for children, peace of mind for parents. “We live in a dangerous world,” says Bethany, a mother of two teenagers. “It’s vital for children to be able to contact their parents.”
A mother named Catherine takes it further. “With some apps,” she says, “you can connect to your child’s phone to see where he is. If he’s driving, you can even see how fast he’s going.”
Help for schoolwork. “Children get homework via e-mail or text message, and they can communicate with their teachers the same way,” says a mother named Marie.
Too much screen time. Young people typically spend several hours a day on their phone. In fact, parents spend about as much time interacting with their devices as they spend in meaningful interaction with their children. Some households have become, as one counselor describes it, “a daily gathering of strangers fixated on a bunch of machines.” *
Pornography. According to one estimate, more than half of all teenagers seek out pornography on a monthly basis—hardly surprising, considering the ease with which it can be accessed on a mobile device. “By letting their child have a smartphone,” says William, a father of two teenagers, “parents could be unwittingly opening up a pornography shop that goes wherever the child goes.”
Dependency. Many people are emotionally attached to their phone. If it is misplaced, they report feeling panicky, desperate, and even sick. Some parents note that their children become rude when using their device. “Sometimes when I want to talk to my son,” says Carmen, “he rolls his eyes or makes a snarky remark because he doesn’t like being interrupted.”
Additional risks. Smartphone use brings with it the risk of cyberbullying and sexting, and can lead to a number of health problems that result from poor posture and a lack of sleep. Some young people use a “ghost app”—an app that appears to be innocent, such as a calculator—to hide content that they do not want their parents to see.
Daniel, the father of a teenage girl, sums it up this way: “A smartphone opens a window to everything the Internet has to offer—both good and bad.”
What you should ask
‘Does my child need a smartphone?’
The Bible says: “The shrewd one ponders each step.” (Proverbs 14:15) With that in mind, ask yourself:
‘Do safety or other issues make it advisable for my child to have a smartphone? Have I weighed the benefits and the risks? Is there an alternative to a smartphone?’
“Basic phones are still available,” says a father named Todd, “and they give you a way to contact your child via text and calling. You’ll also save a lot of money.”
‘Is my child ready for the responsibility?’
The Bible says: “The heart of the wise one leads him in the right way.” (Ecclesiastes 10:2) With that in mind, ask yourself:
‘What convinces me that my child is trustworthy? Do we already have open communication? Does my child have issues with dishonesty, perhaps hiding who his friends are? Does he already know how to show self-restraint with other devices, including the TV, a tablet, or a laptop?’ “A smartphone is an awesome tool, but a powerful one,” says a mother named Serena. “Think about the responsibility you may be giving your child at a tender age.”
‘Am I ready for the responsibility?’
The Bible says: “Train a child in the way he should go.” (Proverbs 22:6, footnote) With that in mind, ask yourself:
‘Do I know enough about the phone to help my child understand and avoid potential dangers? Do I know how to set its parental controls? How will I help my child to show good judgment in using the phone?’ “I’ve seen too many parents hand their kid a smartphone and walk away,” says Daniel, a father quoted earlier.
The bottom line: Children need training to use a smartphone responsibly. “The temptation to overuse these devices is too much to expect our kids to manage,” says the book Indistractable, “particularly in the absence of parental oversight.”