“Should we ban our children from using smartphones?”
It is a question that has been at the heart of several contentious global discussions surrounding our youth’s excessive device usage, especially in recent years.
In fact, a mounting body of research has linked excessive device use with numerous mental health conditions. Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is now officially recognised by the World Health Organization as a mental health problem and is considered an emerging public health crisis, particularly for young people.
Hot on the heels of such developments, international think-tank, the DQ Institute launched the first-of-its-kind 2020 Child Online Safety Index on Safer Internet Day last week. The insights have been nothing short of daunting.
Exposure to cyber risk increases to 70%
Among its most alarming revelations is that on average, children between the ages of 8 to 12 years are spending 32 hours per week behind their screens. It also found that children who owned a smartphone and engaged in higher weekly screen time had a 70% chance of exposure to at least one cyber risk. These risks include cyberbullying, disordered use of technology (uncontrolled video game playing or social media use) and risky content (exposure to violent and sexual content), among others.
The report noted that British children spend almost two days a week staring at their screens, the 2nd highest among the 30 countries results were compared across. Unsurprisingly, the UK comes 19th out of 30 countries for child online safety, lower than any other developed country in the study.
In light of the damning research by the DQ Institute on the thorny consequences of our children’s excessive screen time, banning smartphones altogether is a tempting stance to adopt. However, this accomplishes very little when it comes to getting to the heart of the issue.
It is not the act of using their smartphones, rather it is a matter of education and awareness – are our children equipped with the necessary skills to protect them from exposure to cyber risks or to know what to do when confronted with these risks?
Who is to blame?
In fact, why don’t we look at the source of the problem for a moment? Smartphone companies all but hand smart devices freely to the masses, paying little heed to who their consumers are, only caring about whether they can afford them.
Should the onus of educating our children on the pitfalls of excessive device use lie on the smartphone manufacturers i.e. the Apples, Samsungs, and Googles of the world? What would that entail? Perhaps a child-friendly digital literacy manual that comes with every phone is the solution. This hypothetical manual would contain all that our children would need to know about how to be responsible smartphone owners; including screen time management, how to address cyberbullying, media literacy skills and cybersecurity awareness.
Call me an idealist, but I do believe that there are socially conscious companies in the world that want their products to be used responsibly and regard online safety as a core business principle; Plano will be happy to work with these companies any day.
Education and awareness begins at home
Until then, we cannot ignore the critical role we play in helping our children develop healthy relationships with technology. Let’s ask ourselves this: Are we as the adults doing enough to prime them for all the cyber risks they will potentially be accosted by because of their smart devices? If the answer is no, perhaps we need to get back to basics and start our education efforts at home.