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Are Smart Phones A Smart Choice for Children?

Sharon Long Centers for Youth & Families

It's a question lots of parents are asking: Should kids have smart phones? For the 6- to 12-year old, probably not. First of all, it is really important for children in this age group to have plenty of time for face-to-face socialization and experience with the ups and downs of directly communicating with others - and this kind of communication needs to be media-free! It is a fact that children at this age learn about friendships, trust, and belonging through direct interpersonal interaction and involvement with others.

With so many life lessons to learn during the elementary-school years, children should be encouraged to explore the various dimensions of language - that is, giving and receiving all kinds of messages, both verbal and nonverbal. These opportunities are everywhere: playground, park, school, mall, with friends and family.

In addition, when we think about the fact that so much of what we communicate is non-verbal (specifically, tone, gestures and body language), the importance of how we send messages to those around us becomes even more clear. Often the true message we communicate is not the actual words that are spoken but the way in which the message is delivered. Furthermore, children learn to effectively and confidently communicate through reciprocal, interactive communication in which all the senses are involved. Again, this is an interpersonal experience.

Where do smart phones fit in the equation? Certainly,
elementary-aged children know a good bit about technology - sometimes more than their parents! And, it is perfectly fine for children to understand and appreciate the technological world. The responsibility, however, that comes with a smart phone - including texting and access to internet - is better left for the teen years when choices and consequences are more clearly understood.

The bottom line? There is no substitute for face-to-face communication when it comes to learning about relationships and feelings. Especially at a young age, communication should be fully experienced and not filtered or obstructed by an electronic device. By the adolescent years, most of our children will have (or at least have access to) a smart phone. With this privilege come expectations, limits and responsibilities. A new world of information will be at their fingertips. That is soon enough.

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