Youth and mobile devices: Teaching responsibility

According to national averages, youth now receive their first cell phone at age 12. A young person’s mobile device is often the center of their world – but too much time spent on that cell phone can often be detrimental.

According to a recent study conducted by AT&T, the average age a young person receives his or her first cell phone is age 12 – and 34 percent of those cell phones are smartphones. A majority of youth in the study reported that if they had to select one piece of technology to use for the rest of their lives, they would choose their cell phones over the computer, television or a tablet device. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that the cell phone has become a commonly used platform for consuming media like music, television and games: Their study found that youth ages eight to18 spend nearly an hour a day accessing media through the phone. Given the popularity of cell phones, many parents may be wondering how much is too much when it comes to mobile devices? What are the risks and how can I teach my child to use his or her phone responsibly?

Michigan State University Extension says that too much “screen time,” defined as any time that is spent in front of a screen (i.e. television, computer, mobile device, tablet or video game console), can have a negative effect on anyone, but sets children in particular up for a potential lifetime of problems. The National Institutes of Health reports that children average five to seven hours per day of screen time. Too much screen time increases the risk for obesity, can cause sleep disorders and leads to an increased likelihood of mental and emotional health problems like anxiety, depression and attention disorders. Additionally, peer pressure from friends can lead to teens using their cell phones in ways that their parents might not approve of, including sexting, cyber-bullying and connecting with strangers.

Setting regulations on how your child uses his or her mobile device is important. Ninety percent of youth think it’s reasonable for their parents to set limits on how they use their cell phones; however, only 66 percent of youth say their parents have done so. Parents can help their children learn responsibility by engaging in open conversation with them about what’s appropriate not only in terms of behavior but also in terms of amount of time spent. Create a code of conduct and determine ground rules together. It’s important to take the code of conduct seriously and determine together what the consequences are for not following it. Regularly check in with your child to find out how technology is impacting his or her relationships with peers and provide guidance on navigating a complex world. For tips on keeping your teens safe online, visit Common Sense Media.

Parents have the responsibility of teaching their children how to be independent and self-regulate their use of technology. They can do this by setting a positive example themselves and limiting screen time. The Mayo Clinic offers some tips for limiting screen time:

  • Be mindful about television watching. Don’t use the TV for background noise or to fall asleep at night. Having a television or computer in the bedroom disrupts sleep. Don’t eat in front of the television, either – doing so can cause mindless snacking.
  • Find activities to do together instead of being in front of a screen. Consider volunteering together, exercising or playing a board game.
  • Make media consumption an event rather than the norm – set aside time as a family where you watch a favorite television show or go to the movies together. Consider helping your child create a weekly budget of how he or she will use an agreed upon allotment of screen time (for instance, 10 hours of television watching, four hours of non-school related computer time, etc.).

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