Guest Post by Charles Ebert
Gone are the days when kids used to crave toy cars and yo-yos and when they spent whole days outdoors. Research has shown that children 8 years and below spend an average of 48 minutes on a smartphone every day. As the saying goes, kids are but a reflection of their parents and the society. Adults the world over have become so engrossed in their phones that in some instances, relationships have been torn apart. With the younger generation following in those footsteps, what are the short and long-term effects of smartphone use on their psychological health?
A majority of parents who expose their young offspring to mobile phones and tablets do so for educational purposes. A simple search on Google Play Store or Apple Store will reveal hundreds of spelling/vocabulary apps and games with some being downloaded millions of times. But is teaching your child how to spell using an app as opposed to a good old book a good thing?
Well, yes and no. It works for the older children but for 2-year-olds? It does more harm than good. That has something to do with how a child’s brain develops with time as discussed below.
Theory of Cognitive Development
We can’t conclusively discuss child psychology without the input of one of the greatest researchers in the field, Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget. He is credited for a lot of works, but perhaps his greatest is the Cognitive Development Theory. The theory states that, contrary to the popular assertion that children are ‘little adults’, they undergo 4 stages of psychological growth from birth to adulthood. These are:
- Sensorimotor stage – Typically lasts from birth to about 2 years. In this stage, babies experience the world around them through their 5 senses and movements with their hands and feet.
- Preoperational stage – Lasts from ages 2 to 3 to about 7 years. It’s during this stage that kids learn languages and how to talk. However, they can’t properly analyze situations and care for other people’s emotions and feelings. A lot of tantrums are thrown here.
- Concrete operational stage – Covers the middle childhood ages of 7 to 12 and as the name suggests, children develop an understanding of concrete and logical thought. This means that they can see and understand things that are visible and obvious but will have problems with situations where they need to visualize stuff (abstract thought).
- Formal operational stage – Starts with the onset of adolescence – 12 years right through adulthood. Skills such as abstract reasoning, strategic planning, and critical thinking are developed at this stage progressively.
Now that you have a clue on the process of child development, let’s now see the effects of smartphone use on the cognitive development.
The Effects of Smartphone Use on Cognitive Development
For children in the concrete operational stage, also known as tweens, too much exposure to social media negatively affects their social interaction skills. As they become used to talking to their friends or meeting new friends through social media, they won’t know what to do in real life situations. Such kids tend to be loners and have problems relating to members of the opposite sex.
Impaired Communication Skills
Ideally, children should develop their oral communication skills through face to face interactions and practice. Spending lots of time on their smartphones or tablets will have a negative impact on how they communicate with others in future. Effects include loss of confidence when speaking in public, sudden loss of words when talking and cluelessness when it comes to reading body language.
Children’s abilities to balance different things are not well developed until the latter stages of puberty. Daily use of phones and tablets will therefore easily become an addiction that might prove hard to quit. In most cases, children who own smartphones find it hard to balance school work, family time, and their phones, and the former two take a backseat as they tend to spend more time on their devices.
As a parent, your relationship with your kid will take a hit when you try to get them out of their social media addiction. Taking their phones away may result in depression, eating disorders, and perennial tantrums. Thus, it is better and easier to keep your kids away from smartphones and social media earlier than rectify the problem later on.
Naturally, any kid with access to a smartphone or tablet will find their way to a social site. When there, they are exposed to various things including sexual imagery, religious/political news and above all, cyberbullying. The effects of cyberbullying include suicide, depression, mental illness, and low self-esteem. Being bullied online because of one’s appearance is hard enough on adults so imagine the effects of that on a young, naive kid.
A young victim of cyberbullying will find it hard to trust people and will have issues with their physical features. They will see themselves as not good enough. As a result, they will withdraw from society for fear of being insulted and laughed at.
Without a doubt, mobile phones and computers are great communication tools and make everything easier and faster. Nonetheless, in the wrong hands, they are twice as destructive as they are helpful. Effects of smartphone exposure on kids can sometimes last their whole life and considerably affect their quality of life. To avoid that, only let your kids access a smartphone or tablet device a few times a week and always in your presence.
Author’s Bio: Charles is a career mentor, content coordinator for essay writer service, motivational speaker & human resources consultant with over 10 years of experience in HR sector. Apart from career mentoring, he loves photography and football. Find him on Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook & Google+.