A grandmother's question: How young is too young for a smartphone?


A girl uses a mobile phone as she takes a bus in Beijing, China. Last month United Nations called for a ban on smartphones and smartwatches at school, no matter the age of the user. — AFP

MIAMI: A 10-year-old at the cusp of a birthday is begging for a smartphone in the way only 10-year-olds can - with lots of whining and single-minded determination. Her parents, however, are just as adamant in their denial. No means no, case closed.

Desperate, she turned to me, her grandmother, for support, zeroing in on the one factor that gets me every time. "If I had a phone, we could talk when you wanted," she said. "We wouldn't have to wait for my parents to FaceTime."

For good measure, she would even share phone privileges with her younger sister and brother, thus giving me unparalleled access to little people I love dearly. Her bargaining strategy was brilliant, if manipulative. And I was tempted, believe me.

I resisted, though. Her parents know best, and this smartphone saga is, by no means, my cause. Yet, her pleas got me thinking about the appropriate age for kids to be given a hand-held computer with connections to a virtual world that is as dangerous as it is wonderful.

Two days after my granddaughter's campaign, I read about a small Irish town that made international news when parents joined forces to implement a smartphone ban for children until they finish elementary school. They decided on this unusual restriction because of concerns over rising anxiety among kids and their potential exposure to adult material.

Schools in the area had already either banned or restricted device use on their grounds, but this show of unity from parents and other organisations was a leap into the private sphere. It restricts phones at home and elsewhere until kids reach middle school and high school.

I like the idea, though I also believe that a one-size-fits-all decree is not likely to work for everyone. Family circumstances vary, children mature at different ages, and sometimes a step-by-step introduction to social media and other digital apps is better than a blanket prohibition. Nevertheless, the idea of banning, or at the very least restricting, smartphones until children reach a certain age is catching on.

Irish Health Minister believes the policy deserves nationwide implementation. Citing the increasing number of studies pointing to the potential damage of screens, he wrote in the Irish Times: "We regulate food and drink and medicines. We have extensive child protections in place in so many areas of our society. We're now beginning to do it in the digital space."

In truth, the concept of restrictions for devices has been edging forward very slowly and only after the proverbial horse has left the proverbial barn. In May, the American Psychological Association issued a warning on social media (read: smartphone use, since this is the primary access point) in adolescence and, before that, the American Association of Pediatrics offered a free 10-question tool to help parents figure out if their child is ready to handle a smartphone. The AAP also has guidance on how to create a "media plan."

Last month United Nations called for a ban on smartphones and smartwatches at school, no matter the age of the user. The UNESCO report revealed that about 25% of countries have implemented some kind of ban in educational settings, and pointed to studies that show their removal from campus had improved student learning in schools in, and the.

Navigating the pitfalls of Internet access was not something I had to do as a mother, and for that I am thankful. Raising kids is difficult enough without all the peer pressure, cyberbullying, and social anxiety that comes with these devices. I do not envy today's parents for the hard choices they must make.

I told the 10-year-old as much, pointing out her father hadn't received a cellphone – a flip one, at that – until college. He turned out all right, and so will she, even if she must endure through many phoneless tween years. I'm not sure she believed me. – Miami Herald/dpa

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