In fact, the parents tell him the opposite. “I always hear, ‘I wish I had waited. I wish I knew then what I know now,” she says, “because once you give a child one of these devices or technology, it’s so much harder to take it back.
Smartphones, social media, and video games create big dopamine spikes deep in a child’s brain. As NPR reported, these tips draw the child’s attention to the device or app, almost like a magnet. They tell the child’s brain that this activity is super critical – far more critical than other activities that trigger smaller dopamine spikes, like finishing homework, helping clean up after dinner, or even playing outside with friends. .
So parents are bracing themselves for a constant struggle when a child starts having their own smartphone, Cherkin says. “It’s the dopamine that you’re fighting. And it’s not a fair fight. So I tell the parents, ‘Delay everything as long as you can,’” she says.
This means delaying, not just a smartphone, but any device, including tablets, she suggests. By introducing a tablet at an early age, even for educational purposes, parents can establish a habit that can be hard to break later, Cherkin observed.
“A child who uses a tablet between the ages of 6 and 8 expects to spend time in front of a screen after school,” she says. “Flash forward to when they were 12, and now they have a phone. And when they come home from school, they probably use social media instead of educational videos.”
Neurologically, children’s brains haven’t developed enough to handle the magnetic pull of these devices and the apps they contain, according to a neuroscientist Anne-Noel Samaha at the University of Montreal.
“It’s almost like having the perfect storm,” says Samaha. “You have games, social media, and even pornography and online shopping, and children’s brains just aren’t ready yet to have the level of self-control needed to regulate their behavior with those activities. Even adults sometimes don’t have enough self-control to do this or handle some of the emotional impact of them.
Adjust your parenting fears
Parents often feel that once their tween starts moving around their neighborhood or city more independently, the child needs a smartphone to be safe, Cherkin says. “They may think, ‘Oh, my God! My child is going to be kidnapped on the way to school. They need a phone to call me.
But Cherkin notes that parents tend to overestimate the dangers of the “real world” and underestimate the dangers of a smartphone.
“I think our fears are very misplaced,” she says. “We need to think about what is statistically really likely to happen versus what is really, really unlikely.”
Each year in the United States, around 100 children are abducted by strangers or people or light acquaintances, according to the United States Department of Justice. reported. Given that 50 million children, ages 6 to 17, reside in the United States, the risk of a child being kidnapped by a stranger is approximately 0.0002% each year. (In comparison, the chance of being struck by lightning each year is about 0.0001%.)
On the other hand, giving a child a phone comes with a whole new set of risks and dangers, Cherkin says. They can be difficult for some parents to understand because they may not have a lot of first-hand experience with specific apps and new threats that are emerging.
In March, the non-profit organization Common Sense Media interrogates about 1,300 girls, aged 11-15, about their experiences on social media. Nearly 60% of girls who use Instagram, and almost 60% of those who use Snapchat, said they had been contacted by a stranger who made them feel uncomfortable. The same was true for 46% of those using TikTok.
Disturbing Online Dating and Influences
The same survey found that these apps often expose girls to content they find disturbing or harmful. For those who use Instagram, TikTok or Snapchat, 12-15% of girls see or hear suicide-related content daily. About the same percentage said they see or hear content about eating disorders on a daily basis.
A Center for Countering Digital Hate investigation also found evidence that content related to suicide and eating disorders is relatively common on TikTok. In the investigation, the nonprofit created eight accounts apparently by 13-year-olds. Every user has paused and liked videos about body image and mental health. Within 30 minutes, TikTok recommended suicide and eating disorder content to all eight accounts.
In one case, this content started appearing within three minutes. On average, TikTok suggested eating disorder content every four minutes to teenage accounts.
TikTok declined NPR’s interview request, but in an email, a company spokesperson wrote, “We are committed to creating age-appropriate experiences, while providing parents with tools, like Family matchto support their teenager’s experience on TikTok.
Emma Lembke, 20, says these discoveries match what she experienced when she first took to Instagram eight years ago. “As a 12-year-old girl, I felt like I was constantly bombarded by bodies that I could never replicate or try, but that would take me in a darker direction.”
She just remembers trying to find a healthy recipe. “And from that research, I remember being constantly fed stuff on my ‘200 calorie day’ or intermittent fasting.”
Eventually, she says, her diet was “covered with anorexic, thin, tiny women. Diet pills, lollipops to suppress my appetite.
Lembke developed an eating disorder. She recovered and is now a digital lawyer and founder of the Sign out project, which helps teens build healthier relationships through social media.
“When I was younger I was pushed and pushed and fed material [on social media] it was really leading me in the direction of an eating disorder,” she says. “I think for a lot of young women, even if it doesn’t materialize into a full-fledged eating disorder, it painfully distorts their self-esteem by hurting their body image. ”
Instagram’s parent company Meta declined a request for an interview. But in an email, a spokesperson said the company has invested in technology that finds and removes content related to suicide, self-harm or eating disorders before anyone reports it. “We want to reassure all parents that we have their best interests at heart in the work we do to provide teens with safe and positive online experiences,” they wrote.
A whole world of sexually explicit content
Many children also encounter sexualized content, even pornography, on social media apps, Cherkin says.
If you want to get an idea of what your child might encounter once you give them a popular phone and apps, Cherkin recommends trying this: Set up a test account in one of the apps, setting the age of the user on the age of your child. , then use the account yourself for a few weeks.
“I did it with Snapchat. I created an account pretending to be 15. Then I just went to the Discover feed, where it sends you content based on your age,” explains- She said. Within seconds, sexualized content and vulgar imagery appeared, she said. “And I thought, ‘No, that’s not appropriate for a 15-year-old.
Snapchat’s parent company, Snap, also declined an interview request with NPR. A spokesperson wrote in an email: “We have largely blocked misinformation, hate speech and other potentially harmful content from spreading on Snapchat. That said, we fully understand concerns about the appropriateness of content that may be featured and are working to strengthen protections for teens in an effort to provide them with a more age-appropriate experience.
Personally, Cherkin uses Instagram for her business. And in March, despite all her knowledge of social media traps, she says she “got caught chatting.” She engaged with a stranger who appeared to be a teenager in her DMs and eventually received obscene and disturbing photos of a man’s genitals.
She writing on his blog: “It’s graphic. It’s disgusting. And this is a tiny (lol) example of what kids and teens see ALL THE TIME.
What should a parent do? Consider alternatives to smartphones
Ultimately, Cherkin says, there are several other in-between options for tweens besides giving them their own smartphone or denying them a phone altogether. You can:
- Share your phone with your tween so they can text and call friends.
- Give your tween a “dumb phone” that only allows texting and calling. For example, buy an old-fashioned flip phone. But if that’s out of the question because it’s not cool enough (and you have extra money to spend), you can now buy stupid phones that look like smartphones but have extremely limited functions – no easy internet access, no social media. And very little risk of inappropriate content.
Try to limit the apps your child uses, but be prepared to be busy monitoring them
If you do end up getting a smartphone for your tween, Cherkin says, you might be tempted to just “block” kids from downloading particular apps to their phones. And in theory, it works. Parental control apps, such as To bark, can notify you when an app is installed.
But, she says, many children find workarounds to this approach — and really to all parental controls. For example, she says, if you block Instagram on their phone, kids can connect through the web. If you block TikTok, they might watch TikTok videos on Pinterest. Children can find porn on spotify.
“Kids are way more tech savvy than we are,” Cherkin wrote in an email. “Do you remember how we used to program the VCR for our parents?” ! Every single parent who comes to me for help has a variation of this same story: “We had X parental controls; we blocked X sites; our kid figured out how to get to it anyway. … It’s impossible to successfully block everything – and once you do, a replacement will appear in its place.