four young people's hands holding four phonesMobile devices are an integral part of kids’ lives, especially for tweens and teens aged 12 to 17. According to Common Sense Media, in 2019 41% of tweens own a smartphone, while 84% of teens own one. In addition to laptops, children and teens are also increasingly using tablet computers, and smart watches.

Risks

Risks include:

  • Mental health: Research shows that individuals who use their mobile devices often and feel compelled to respond to them are more likely to feel stressed, depressed and have trouble sleeping.
  • Cyberbullying: Text messages and other mobile apps are increasingly used to send hurtful messages and pictures to victims. Mobile devices can amplify the effects of bullying as some victims feel as though they can’t get away from hurtful messages that continue to pop on their phone or other device.
  • Distracted driving: Mobile devices have the potential to distract drivers in a variety of ways, regardless of whether the device is used for talking, texting, checking email, or accessing the Internet. According to a 2013 report from the United States Department of Transportation, 297 people died in crashes involving a teen (15-19) driver who was distracted by a cell phone.
  • Physical health concerns: Heavy users of mobile devices may find themselves making repetitive hand motions can lead to hand and arm pain, or may hold a device in a certain position for a prolonged period causing elbow and shoulder pain. You may also experience vision problems such as computer vision syndrome by spending excessive amounts of time focusing on a small screen.
  • Bacteria: Studies have shown that the glass touchscreens of many cell phones and mobile devices is conducive to harboring bacteria that can be easily spread to our fingers and can make us sick.
  • Cancer risk: Research is ongoing yet inconclusive in the area of brain cancer and cell phones.
  • Expense: Parents may experience sticker shock when they receive the bill for their child’s cell phone or data usage for their tablet. Monthly plans are an added expense, in addition to app purchases and excessive data charges.

Benefits

Benefits include:

  • Health and Wellness: Mobile devices allow for delivery of personalized health messages (via text or an app) that can help a youth combat obesity or encourage them to quit smoking.
  • Relationships: Mobile devices can help keep families and friends connected even when they live far away. Whether through text, video chat, or another app, mobile devices have the potential to help children feel closer to those they care about.
  • Safety & Convenience: No one can argue the convenience of being able to reach your child immediately, or a child being able to reach his parent, in the case of a sudden change of plans. More importantly, cell phones and other mobile devices can be used in emergency situations, and parents can use one of a variety of mobile apps to track their child via the device’s GPS.

Healthy Use

To help your child use mobile media safely, CMCH recommends that you consider the following tips:

  • Discuss your child’s motivations for having a mobile device: Talk about using mobile devices for safety and as a resource rather than as a status symbol or way to fit in. Having this conversation may not only cut down on your child’s minutes and data usage, but it could initiate a deeper conversation about his or her life, for example, feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and who they feel they need to be connecting with – and when and why.
  • Develop a set of rules and responsibilities as a mobile device user: In providing your child with a mobile device, you have the right to set the rules for its use: “Always answer calls and messages from parents immediately.” “Never use your mobile device while driving”. With younger children and with teens, make it clear that a mobile device is an expensive tool, not a toy, and should be treated with care.
  • Discuss appropriate circumstances, places and uses for mobile devices with your child: Although you should encourage your child to always use her cell phone in an emergency regardless of the circumstances, she should also be aware that cell phone use has the potential to distract or bother others around her. Make sure that your children know not to use their cell phone or other device in the classroom unless they are directed to do so by their teacher. You can also set boundaries as to when mobile devices can be used at home to encourage face-to-face interactions.
  • Establish rules around mobile device use at night: Require your children to turn mobile devices off at night and charge them in a common area rather than allowing them to take them into their rooms, where they can talk or message late into the night.
  • Consider a child-friendly cell phone for your child: Some phones made especially for kids allow you to control whom your child can call, or offer only “mom” and “dad” buttons so no other calls can be made.
  • Teach your kids to only answer calls or view text/app messages from people they know: Like the internet, mobile devices can be a vehicle not only for bullying, but also for predators and scams.
  • Help your kids save money: Consider purchasing a pre-paid plan with a limited number of minutes and/or data usage for your kids, and remind them to “budget” their minutes. Discuss with kids that in-app purchases cost real money, and spending real money on a virtual item will have consequences. Also, turning off text messaging and internet capabilities on your child’s mobile device can help keep bills low.

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