Parents for years have depended on cellphones as electronic leashes for their teenage kids.
They enable worried adults to keep up with their busy kids’ goings and comings and swoop in when they need help. But cellphones aren’t devices that parents give to teens with driver’s licenses and the keys to the family car anymore. The kids already have them.
A study that the Sprint Corp. included on a website on Wednesday says that 10.3 years old is the average age in which parents now get kids a smartphone. The new findings from Influence Central’s 2016 Digital Trends Study follows a 2012 digital-use study.
The age drop for smartphones is not surprising. Nine and 10-year-old kids on the block where I live in Northeast Kansas City have smartphones and Facebook accounts, and their younger siblings also would love to have their own gadgets.
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The downside is that kids spend more time on such devices than they do playing to burn off calories and interact with other kids and adults. The gadgets increasingly are distractions in school and during study time and the primary instruments in socializing kids.
The Sprint website note that 66 percent of parents think their children spend too much time on their smartphones, and 52 percent of kids agree. Yet the practice continues.
The study shows the growing “role technology now plays (in) the lives of today’s kids, how they gain ownership of their own devices at a younger age and how they increasingly enjoy more access and privacy while online,” the study notes. Today’s kids more than in the past truly are digital natives with with 64 percent having access to the internet on their own laptops or tablets compared with 42 percent in 2012.
That benefits smartphone makers and internet providers, opening up a vast new market of cellphone users. For wary parents, it also creates problem with smartphones being misused for sexting and cyberbulling. Isolation makes that possible.
Kids gaining internet access using a shared family computer dropped from 70 percent in 2012 to 54 percent this year. It follows the problem that families had with televisions a couple of generations ago when those electronic devices migrated from a shared viewing, family space to kids having individual sets in their bedrooms for isolated TV watching without parental oversight.
Smartphones come in second to iPads and tablets as kids’ entertainment devices for car trips.
The quiet time on road trips that many parents used to use to talk with their kids and learn what’s going on in schools has been electronically usurped in many homes. But it is not just the kids’ fault. They mimic adults spending time talking and texting others instead of face-to-face personal discussions with them in the car.
Also, 38 percent of kids access the internet on their smartphones, which is up from 19 percent, and 26 percent have access via a gaming console, an increase from 19 percent in 2012. In addition, 50 percent of kids by age 12 have social media accounts.
“Facebook and Instagram represent the most-used social platforms among kids, with 77 percent using each,” the study notes. “But Twitter continues to climb with 49 percent of kids, and a newer entry, Snapchat, with 47 percent.”
Of course that exposes more kids to cyberbulling and stranger danger, and parents aren’t taking that lightly. Parental restrictions, including texting, social media platforms, apps and limiting time kids are engaged on the internet increased from 14 percent to 34 percent since the last survey.
In all likelihood, parental oversight should probably be a lot higher.
It’s a brave, new, social media connected world. But that’s not necessarily good.