Can I have an iPhone for Christmas?

05th Dec 2017

A recent survey of US young adults found they were spending between four and five hours per day on their smart phones.

They are doing everything from watching TV on YouTube to checking their profiles on social media to gaming with their friends. I've even started to hear of younger children using video based chat apps to complete homework together. So far, so good, right?

A direct correlation with this increase is the steady and increasingly steep decline in the amount young people socialise together in person, simply meeting up for a kick around or going shopping on a Saturday is in free fall, down 40% between 2000 and 2015. Again, "so what?" I hear you say. Surely my children are safer at home where I can keep an eye on them? Perhaps. However it depends on what "safe" means and how you assess the longer term impacts.

One of these has been that overall happiness of young people has plummeted recently, in survey after survey children are indicating lower levels of overall well being. Some are drawing causation from the increase in smartphone usage. A recent study found that 13 year olds who spend 10 hours or more a week on social media are 56% more likely to say they are unhappy than those who are on social media less often. In contrast those who spend an above average amount of time socialising in person are 20% less likely to say they are unhappy.

The stats for depression are equally bleak. Of heavy users of social media, more than 10 hours per week, researchers found a 27% increase in the risk of developing depressive tendencies. Suicides among young people are also rising with suggestions that risk factors increase by 35% when accounting for social media use.

There has been a remarkable threefold increase in suicides among 12-14 year old girls between 2007 and 2015. Why? Social Media is not designed for children and a report out today by the 5Rights organisation is lobbying government to do more to warn of the risks.

Children are uniquely poorly equipped to deal with the lure and uncertainty of social media. There is significant upset caused when children are left out of the conversation. They regularly experience high levels of anxiety about posts they have made and whether anyone will "like" or comment on something they have left online.

Cyber bullying is increasing due in large part to a child's misunderstanding on the online world versus the real world. When children say nasty things to each other in the playground either the teacher will intervene or the child will immediately appreciate the impact of what they've said and apologise. Online worlds are different however, whilst adults typically know that anything said online is like shouting it across a crowded room, children typically do not understand the distinction.

One of the biggest problems I have seen as a Head is that of sleep deprivation. Children will regularly leave their phones by their pillows when they go to sleep and check social media multiple times during the night. Between 2012 and 2015 the number of children classified as sleep deprived increased by 22%. Think of all the money wasted on expensive teachers due to a sleepy head in the morning.

So what are the solutions? It seems like research supports my gut instinct that more screen time, specifically social media time, is bad and more face to face time is good.

Children should go outside more. The risks to long term health of playing in the street seem to be lower than playing on your phone.

Don't give a smart phone to a young person. Children below the age of 13 (and possible older) simply do not need one. Sorry to be the Grinch this Christmas but instead of an iPhone (or any smart phone) why not give them something like a cinema pass they can use with their friends or a digital alarm clock so their phones can be locked away overnight?


Taken from the following articles;

Digital Childhood, Addressing Childhood Development Milestones in the Digital Environment