Jim was sitting at the breakfast table when he heard his children talking about Disney. The Walt Disney company completes 100 years and so the centenary celebrations would be held year-round. Jim was puzzled how his kids knew all this information. Upon asking them, he learnt that they got most of their news update online. He even heard his toddler humming along to a song that was released barely 48 hours ago!
Technology has come a long way in the past few years. Our grandparents would listen to the news on the radio, we switched over to newspapers and TV and now our children have information at the swipe of their fingers. Smartphones have become an integral part of our daily life. We may forget to carry our wallet and sometimes even keys, but the multi-utility phone is never forgotten. Smartphones have replaced many items that we used as children; be it a watch for telling the time, newspapers, maps and even photo albums.
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Most of us ‘parents’ may have had our first phone once we were in college. Some may even have bought a phone with their first salaries. However, times have changed now. Not only are these devices available and accessible across the household, children are more adept at operating these devices than their parents. They intuitively know how to download games, watch videos, click pictures, and video call their grandparents. During the pandemic, the smartphone was instrumental in ensuring that students didn’t miss classes during the lockdown. Many schools still continue to send homework and assignments online on email or on Apps that were launched during the lockdown. Owing to the new learning styles and maybe because children are involved in extra-curricular activities after school, many parents also begin to think about providing children with a phone.
‘SMART’ phones give children the ability to gain immediate knowledge apart from a tool for instant and easy communication. It’s a huge help when making science projects or writing an essay on a historical event. However, on the flip side, unsupervised access to phones can impact their health negatively. Pictures or posts on social media can be used against them apart from the inappropriate or adult content freely available online.
In a nutshell, a smartphone is a part of our daily lives – for better or for worse! Thus, while there is no real answer to the exact time to give your children a smartphone but,
There are some ground rules that we can set to ensure that devices are being used responsibly!
Anything in excess is bad
Just like we ration junk food or even outdoor playing time; we need to set limits on screen-time. If static assignments are shared on an App and your child needs to copy it down, try printing it out for them instead of copying it directly from the phone. Ensure there are no screens for at least one hour before bedtime. Remove your phone or the child’s phone from the child’s room / bedside at night. Phones should also not be allowed during mealtimes or family functions. Also make sure the phone is left at home during school hours!
Parents are in control
Smart phones are truly smart since they allow you to limit the Apps/content that kids have access to. You can set Parental controls on the types of movies and TV shows they can watch and also block out individual websites. If children are using their parents’ phones, make sure that banking app passwords are not shared with children. There should be clear understanding that they are not allowed to make purchases on gaming apps and require your explicit permission to do so.
Children cannot be completely cut-off from using phones. In fact, they may be cut off from information without access to a smart device. Having said which, aim to use the screen time productively. There are many Apps which provide puzzles and quizzes that children can benefit from. This ensures that children subconsciously learn as they play. Children can also listen to stories, interpret them and solve questions or even access books online.
There is no right or wrong age to give your child a phone. Every child is different, and their ability to listen and manage controlled access is also different. So, the right age is when you, as a parent, consider your child ready to be given access. Your own readiness is also important as you will need to set boundaries, monitor content and time spent, while your children learn to take on the responsibility of the access that smart phones give them!
Times change, we need to change as well
– Nelson Mandela