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Should Kids Have Cell Phones?

By Phillippa Paisley, Research and Public Education Coordinator at The Children’s Movement of Florida

With today’s technological advancements, most cell phones go way beyond their main function of communication. So-called smartphones now are used to watch television shows and movies, advertise products, play video games and engage in social media.

In an ongoing debate whether children, especially those 5 years old or less, should use cell phones, I would argue this based on the notion of cell phone’s contribution to “screen time.” Screen time is the number of minutes a child has with any screen-based technological device, at the expense of physical activity and personal interaction. While children need to learn how to navigate the age of technology, there also is a need to balance individual activities with physical and social interaction. Hence, I believe cell phones are permissible to children, but conditionally and contextually.

Common Sense Media reported that more than half of America’s children 8 years or younger spent more than two hours with screen media. In contrast, the American Academy for Pediatrics advises that children under 3 years old should have no screen time, and older ones have a maximum of 2 hours.

Nevertheless, new studies have shown a different approach to screen time for early learners. Michael Levine and Lisa Guernsey’s book, “Tap, Click, Read,” shows how screen time can be beneficial to children of all ages, but in different contexts. At 0-2 years, a child can interact with screens by looking at photos and talking to relatives via Skype or a simple phone call. This is best done in the company of the parent to distinguish differences and in turn collaborates screen time and physical interaction.

For children more than 2 years old, some screen time can be useful based on the wide range of educational programs and applications available. With the conditions of monitoring the age-appropriate programs and the content of these apps, cell phone use can help in the development of a child’s brain, the authors argue.

Guernsey suggests that screen time and social interaction should go hand in hand to engage with children on the media they interact with through posing questions to them on their interests and creating conversation on their media preferences.

Screen time has become valuable when it is used for academic development and some entertainment. With this I am not in favor of denying kids the use of cell phones totally, but screen time should be moderated so there is also time for physical and social interaction. That would help ensure children develop socially and emotionally without losing themselves in the passiveness that extended screen time allows.

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