Delay kids’ smartphone use, pediatrician advises

Family media plan can help limit screen time, protect kids' health

A male and female teen hold smartphones as they talk. A family media plan can help keep kids from using screens too much.

Kids of all ages tend to turn to smartphones for entertainment and connection with their friends. And during the coronavirus pandemic, smartphones have seemed all the more essential.

But the potential for a negative effect on children concerns Dr. Stephanie Hanson, a Sanford Health pediatrician. So she advises parents to hold off on handing over a smartphone until kids are more developmentally ready.

Studies say significant use of smartphones can affect kids’ brains, she said.

Smartphone use may produce addictive brain responses, similar to alcohol, drug and gambling addictions. “Smartphones are like slot machines in your children’s pocket, constantly persuading them to crave more,” Dr. Hanson said.

A National Institutes of Health study found that using electronic devices such as smartphones for more than seven hours a day thinned kids’ cortex, the part of the brain that processes information from the five senses, Dr. Hanson added. And more than two hours a day can affect scores on thinking and language tests, the study found.

So Dr. Hanson is an advocate of waiting until kids are at least 14 to allow them to have a smartphone, when they are ready for the responsibility.

Plans and pledges

“A great way to delay or reduce smartphone usage is to come up with a family media plan,” Dr. Hanson said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends a family media plan to guide screen time. They offer a personalized tool that helps parents create goals and guidelines for a family media plan, personalized for each child’s health, education and entertainment needs.

The Wait Until 8th campaign is a movement started by a concerned mom that encourages families to delay smartphone use. It supports families who sign an online pledge that they’ll wait to allow their kids to have a smartphone until they’re in eighth grade. Families receive tips and resources for rallying other parents to sign the pledge, too.

When 10 families from the child’s grade and school have pledged, then the pledges are revealed to the other families so they know they are supporting one another’s values.

Of course, a phone can be important for some children to have before age 14, but basic phones capable of calling and texting are still available without the distracting apps.

“The best way to get kids to do something is to lead by example,” Dr. Hanson said. “Limiting smartphone use is a very good idea for all of us.”

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Posted In Back to School, Brain & Spine, Children's, Parenting

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