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Should Kids Have Access to Smartphones?

I’m pretty confident I could write several posts on this topic. It’s such a loaded question! It’s also not an easy question to answer. I love technology! I enjoy learning about new programs and how they can improve my “workflow”. I like perusing Pinterest to find the next “Pinterest Fail” dessert I can take to a family gathering! I enjoy the comforts of streaming the shows I like, Bluetooth headphones, and XM Radio. I absolutely love my Apple Watch and keeping track of my health stats. Technology can be a great thing - when it is placed in the right hands and used in a responsible manner.

Because I am an adult, I know how to use technology appropriately. I understand the dangers lurking on the internet and I know how to keep my information and myself safe. My prefrontal cortex is fully developed so I can problem solve, use proper reasoning, and I have impulse control (unless we are talking chocolate).

Kids on the other hand have developing brains. Scientists believe that the prefrontal cortex may not be fully developed until the mid-twenties! So when we talk about the dangers of the internet - pornography, sexual predators, violence, catfishing, etc, we can expect that our kids will not fully understand the consequences of dangerous or curious behavior on the internet.

I could give numerous reasons why I feel strongly (and how research supports) that kids should not have access to smartphones (or tablets) unless under close adult supervision, and only for limited amounts of time. Kids should never be allowed to have devices in their rooms or unsupervised - even for a few minutes. My biggest worry is our kids’ exposure to pornography. I’ve spoken to many kids who have accidentally encountered porn on the internet only to become secretly addicted to it. These are kids from "good" homes with "good" parents who care for and love them - but are unaware of the secret addiction haunting their children. The kids feel deep shame and work hard to hide their addiction, so they never get help or hope for recovery. Research shows that viewing pornography actually changes the brain - and not in a good way. We must do everything in our power to protect our kids. When we give them unlimited and unchecked access to the internet, we are opening Pandora’s box and are risking their healthy development and wellbeing.

So how do we balance giving our kids unlimited, unsupervised internet access with giving them age-appropriate access to the tools and devices that can enrich their education and prepare them for a successful future?

  • Make sure you use a reliable app that allows you to monitor your child’s activity on the internet and social media. Use parental controls.

  • Give your child strict time limits to make sure he or she is not spending too much time online.

  • Know your child’s passwords and check their accounts often. Make sure you know everyone on their friends lists.

  • Teach your children about the dangers of pornography. Talk to them about personal boundaries.

  • Talk to your kids about dangerous and inappropriate websites. Make a plan for what they should do when they encounter a dangerous website. Handle any issues (and you will have issues) with grace and a calm demeanor. We want our kids to be completely comfortable coming to us with a problem without fear of getting in trouble. It is better to problem-solve together.

  • Preview and be very familiar with the online games your children are playing. Do not let them play online with strangers.

These types of conversations can be difficult to have but they are important! Keep those lines of communication open so that when it is time to have a difficult conversation, it is not as uncomfortable and awkward for you or your child.

Both the internet and technology can be very useful and valuable tools when used appropriately. As adults, it is our responsibility to make sure our kids are safe. It takes time and effort on our part. I know it is difficult and time-consuming, but it is our responsibility. Our kids, and even our communities, will benefit from our investment.

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