Smartphones

Is My Child Ready For A Cellphone?

As social media safety experts, advocates, and coaches who present to thousands of parents throughout Canada and the United States, one question we are usually confronted with is, “What age do you think a child should be gifted a cell phone.”, this is especially true during the Christmas season or a brithday when youth are hoping for a phone as a gift.  We believe this question, although well-meaning in nature, really misses the point because it’s not about the age of a child, rather it’s about their social and emotional maturity and impulse control that allows them the ability to own and operate a phone without direct parental supervision? If the answer to this question is no, then it doesn’t matter if the child is 6 years old or 16, they should not be receiving a phone. This is especially true if they struggle with conflict, have poor impulse control, and can’t honour boundaries. As Dr Devorah Heitner, a child safety advocate has stated,

“A birthday milestone, or some far-off date in the future will not ensure your child’s readiness for the responsibility that comes having the entire world a swipe away. Instead, consider independence milestones—ways for your child to demonstrate readiness.

Here are some milestones to consider:

  • Making lunch without help
  • Walking home from school alone
  • Spending a brief time home alone
  • Babysitting a younger child for short windows of time
  • Riding public transit independently
  • Organized with homework

If your child is demonstrating independence in many of the above milestones, they could be ready or ready soon. If not, you can consider setting progressive milestones for your child to work towards to demonstrate readiness.”

Remember in Canada, and many other countries, to purchase a cellphone data plan you need to be at least 18yrs of age unless a parent or adult signs a cell provider’s Terms of Service (contract). Parents, by signing the Term of Service for your child, you legally own the phone; not your child. Again, cell phones are not a right to have, they are a privilege to have when it comes to children, tweens, and teens. When we gift our kids a cellphone, it needs to be made clear that we legally own the phone and are just lending it to them with conditions attached. It is important that parents remove the sense of entitlement that many youths have specific to a gifted cellphone, or other digital devices they may receive.

Although we have personally seen children in grade one with smartphones, which is ridiculous in our opinion except in exigent circumstances such as a medical necessity (diabetes type 1), according to the marketing agency “Influence Central”, the average age of youth owning their first cell phone in Canada is 10 years. According to the Canadian digital literacy group MediaSmarts, 24% of students in the fourth grade own their own phone and 85% of students in the 11th grade. It has been our experience that a child’s first cell phone is often not a new device, but rather a hand-me-down phone from a parent, who has upgraded to a new smartphone. We also believe it is important to know that our kids aren’t using their phones just as phones. Here’s a breakdown of what our kids are doing with their phones:

Texting 88%, Instant messaging 79%, Accessing Social Media 72%, Emailing 64%, Video Chatting 59%, Video Gaming 52%, Messaging Apps 42% 

When you as the parent decide that your child is ready for a phone, it is very important that you put in place clear expectations as to how the phone will be used in and outside of the home. This also includes understanding your child’s school policy about using a phone during school hours. To help, we have created something we call the “Family Collective Agreement” https://bit.ly/36VVhbi This should be printed and placed in a card that accompanies the gifted phone.

One of the prime directives in the Collective Agreement – the phone will not be used privately in a bedroom or bathroom. Setting usage goalposts early is extremely important, our Family Collective Agreement is a good way to start talking about digital expectations, the goalposts, with a  gifted phone.

When first learning how to ride a bike, do we buy our children the best and most expensive bike on the market? NO – we purchase a cheap bike with training wheels. Why, because we expect that during the learning process, they are going to drop the bike and have some minor accidents along the way, resulting in the bike becoming scraped and banged up.

The same analogy applies to a cellphone. Cellphone providers purposely make this a challenge by offering the newest iPhone or Android phone for free.  The catch, you need to sign up for a very expensive two-year contract.  This is not something we recommend parents do for a child’s first phone, especially for those under the age of 16yrs.

When we ask parents why they would want their grade 3, 4, or 5 children to own a smartphone, the number one answer we hear is, “in an Emergency, they can call me or I can immediately call them.” Often giving a child a cellphone is more about a parent’s convenience in being able to connect and keep tabs on their child 24/7. However, with this tech convenience comes vulnerability that “may” place your child at risk if they are not ready to have a cellphone.  If this is the main reason, then don’t buy them a smartphone, buy them a basic cell phone that can call, text, and take/send pictures. A model that we recommend to parents as a child’s first cell phone is the Nokia 3310 3g ($78.00 CDN) https://bit.ly/3kQGHGZ .  Another great option out of Australia, that can be used here in Canada by carriers that use what is called a GSM network, is the KISA phone ($234.00 CDN) https://bit.ly/3lWTn02 One more option to consider other than a cellphone or smartphone, how about a smartwatch, like the “Lil Tracker” https://bit.ly/38HR3ZC that is specifically designed for youth and allows a parent a variety of ways to stay connected with their child, but does not allow full internet access.

As your child starts to show good judgment, and consistent social and emotional maturity with their basic cellphone, you can now upgrade them to a basic smartphone. I other words, the digital training wheels that a basic cellphone such as the Nokia 3310 provides, can now be removed. We always recommend a basic Android as their first smartphone over an iPhone because of their price – Android phones are usually much cheaper and have a greater ability to place third party parental monitoring apps on the phone, which the iPhone does not allow (something we will speak to later in this article). Once your child does show you good judgment, consistent social and emotional maturity, and good digital literacy, then they are ready to move into a higher-end Android smartphone or iPhone.

Parents need to understand that much like a laptop or desktop computer, smartphones are the keys to the digital highway, that allow your child to have access to the Internet, both the good and the bad. Given this fact, we also believe that we should also provide our kids with digital seat belts, or what I like to call parental monitoring/filtering software solutions. Our kids have no right to privacy from us as parents!  Having said this, our kids can earn their right to privacy by showing us parents good consistent digital citizenship over time. Once our kids can do this, then I recommend that monitoring software be removed because your child has earned that right. We also recommend that parents DO NOT use monitoring/filtering software covertly or in isolation. If a parent is going to install monitoring/filtering software, let the child know. Also, explain to the child that they can earn the right to have this software removed but you also have the right to place it back on their phone if they breach any clause in the Family Collective Agreement.  Both the Android and iPhone also have their own native parental controls that should be turned on as well.

Remember, hardware and software are not replacements for good parenting. It is all about parental participation, education, and supervision with our kids, combined with hardware and software solutions where appropriate and reasonable to do so. We need to be our child’s best parent and not their best friend when it comes to keeping our kids emotionally, psychologically, and physically safer, especially at younger ages, in how they are accessing the digital world until such time as they are mature enough to go it alone.

So what Kind of “Smarter” Phone Is the Best First Phone:

If you are looking for a “smarter” cellphone, rather than the basic Nokia 3310 3g or the KISA phone that we mentioned earlier in this article, we have some ideas for you.

Many of the popular smartphones on the market today are very costly and often technologically overpowered—especially when it comes to a teen’s first phone. We decided to look for an entry-level, non-flip, “smarter” cellphone that we could recommend to parents who are considering gifting a phone to their child. We get it, sometimes a basic cell phone can have a negative stigma attached that can create a situation where the child could be targeted by their peers and made fun of. This is why we wanted any “smarter” phone that we would recommend to have the following specifications:

#1: We wanted a reliable phone that is under $100.00CAD before taxes. Given how these phones get treated by many first-time teen users, the likelihood of breakage or the accidental loss of the phone is a real possibility. So, we wanted to find a phone that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to purchase or replace if needed. We also recommend that you stay away from purchasing a used phone online, just too many potential problems unless you are a techie and know how to digitally wipe the phone. If you are still considering buying a used phone online, ensure that you check what is known as its IMEI number before the purchase to ensure that it is not a stolen phone. https://bit.ly/35SeScU 

#2: Although we love iPhones, they are expensive and very restrictive when it comes to adding a third-party parental monitoring and filtering option. This is why we are now recommending an Android phone as a teen’s first device, given that their operating system, unlike the iPhone, allows for third-party installations. Once your child shows responsible digital citizenship and stewardship of the phone itself, then consideration can be given to their next phone being a more premium Android or even an iPhone instead.

#3: We didn’t want the purchase of the phone to come with an expensive 2-year contract that a parent would be locked into. We looked for a phone that had no carrier commitments and no contracts. We wanted to find a reasonably-priced, month-to-month, pay-as-you-go option given that these types of plans offer the most flexibility for parents.

#4: We wanted a phone plan that also offered free voicemail, free caller ID, free call waiting, and free incoming text messages.

#5: We wanted to find a phone plan that was flexible and offered several specific options such as:

  • phone only
  • phone and text-only
  • and lastly, phone, text, and data combined.

Again, we wanted a plan that offers the ability to fit the needs of a specific child and their family.

#6: We wanted to identify an Android phone and operating system that supports the parental monitoring and filtering software that we will be recommending in this article.

The entry-level phone that meets the above-noted specifications (minus the monitoring software) that we are recommending as a young teen’s first smartphone is the MAXWest Nitro4X, which is presently being sold online, or in-store, if available, by 7-11 Canada https://bit.ly/3pSxFNq  or London Drugs for $75.00 CAD. https://bit.ly/3pRJEux For those readers who are from the United States, we would recommend the GABB Z2 https://bit.ly/2IXGPHy  At the time of writing this article, the GABB Z2 phone is not yet available in Canada.

There are a variety of pay-as-you-go monthly plans through “Speak Out Canada,” a cellular carrier that has partnered with 7-11 and uses the Rogers cellular networkhttps://bit.ly/2IQ6zG1  We recommend starting with the 200 Canada-wide minute plan, which includes unlimited texting, for just $20.00.

As your child progresses and shows greater responsibility with the phone, you can then add on a further 100MB data plan for $10.00, or even a premium month-to-month, pay-as-you-go plan. https://bit.ly/2UMZV5I  However, it’s our recommendation that before you give them too much cellular data, you start with the $20.00 plan first, then (if needed) add on the $10.00 data plan second, and then consider the smartphone plans as the last step once they show good digital citizenship with their phone. We believe that incremental steps are always an ideal way to teach youth responsibility with their first phone. Remember, even without a data plan, your child will still be able to access the internet for free via Wi-Fi at home, school or any other open Wi-Fi source.

Once you have purchased the phone and have decided on the appropriate month-to-month, pay-as-you-go plan, you will also have to purchase a SIM card for $10.00. Don’t forget to “port protect” the phone which is a free service provided by most cellular providers, but you need to request this be turned on. https://bit.ly/2J5D7v6

A 200-minute plan with unlimited texting in Canada (no data) and a sim card means the total cost for the phone (without the Top Up option) will be approximately $110, plus all applicable taxes. This is a FANTASTIC DEAL!

Again, this is an entry-level smartphone that does not have the same quality, power, responsiveness, or features as a premium smartphone. We want you to think of this phone as “tech training wheels” that a pre-teen/early teen will have to learn how to master and respect first, before upgrading to a more expensive and more powerful phone.

A challenge that we identified with the Speak Out Canada cellular carrier is that it piggybacks onto the Rogers cellular network. What this means is that if there is no Rogers network in your area, then you will not have any coverage. Also, this phone and the Speak-Up phone plan is not available in the Yukon, North West Territories, and Nunavut.

Now that your child has a fully functioning, “smarter” phone, we also think you should consider the following three recommendations:

Recommendation #1:

Given that the Android platform allows parents to add third-party parental monitoring and filtering software, we recommend that you now also consider downloading the “Boomerang App” onto their phone https://bit.ly/3foYHXH  Once you click on the provided link, choose “Purchase Boomerang” to purchase and download it onto your child’s new phone.

***UPDATE NOV 2021***

The MAXWest Nitro4X no longer supports the Boomerang monitoring APP given that it uses the AndroidGo operating system. Having said this, it’s still a good cheap starter smarter phone.  If you want the ability to utilize the parent Boomerang monitoring app, then we would recommend that you look at a refurbished unlocked Google/Android phone which does not use the AndroidGo operating system. These phones will cost between $145-$200 dollars, and can be purchased in most cellphone stores online like BestBuy Canada.

We also recommend, based upon financial ability, to further layer parental oversight by considering the installation of the Gryphon Router in your home and their mobile “homebound” app be placed onto their phone. https://bit.ly/3fpWTxS 

Recommendation #2:

To provide those under the age of 13 with a safer online experience where they can learn how to text, message, and share pictures with other family members, and even friends, we recommend that you also consider downloading a messaging app called Kinzoo. https://bit.ly/3fpNVjP  We have worked with Kinzoo, a Canadian-based company, and their family messaging app was built with privacy and security as its foundation. They do not sell any personal information about its users to any third parties.

Recommendation #3:

The last step is to download and implement our free “White Hatter Family Collective Agreement”. https://bit.ly/3kYXMhQ  This document clearly outlines acceptable and unacceptable use of digital devices, both inside and outside the home. Once read and signed by all family members, this document should be posted in a public place in the home for all to see as a constant reminder.

We here at The White Hatter believe that if you are not considering a basic cellphone, like the Nokia 3310 3g , the MAxWest Nitro4X from 7-11, combined with the Speak-Up Canada month-to-month, pay-as-you-go plan, is a sound, entry-level smartphone that is not going to cost you a fortune.

Taking A Phone Away as Punishment: A Suggestion

In today’s onlife world, a phone has become the third appendage to our kids, and taking away a phone for bad behaviour is like the amputation of that third appendage.  We are not saying that taking a phone from your child is not an option, it is.  What we are saying – choose your battles carefully and don’t treat every situation like a nail and hit it with a hammer.  The hammer is taking the phone.

If your child was using their phone in a low-level mischievous way, and you take their phone as punishment, what do you think will happen when they are really in trouble online and need help.  Do you think they will come and tell you? Probably not because they are likely fearful that you will over-react and take their phone. Instead, think about an escalating scale that could include:

  • first offence – verbal warning.
  • Second offence – multiple chores around the home for the next week.
  • Third offence – chores + take their power chord. Now they have to watch the battery quickly drain on their phone without the ability to re-charge. This will drive them crazy!
  • Forth Offence – chores + take the phone, remove the sim card and replace it with a cheap flip phone which you give them to use for a week.
  • Fifth offence – chores + no phone.

Again, in exigent circumstances, the taking of a phone is likely warranted. However, if not an exigent circumstance, think about the above noted escalating consequence to actions approach. You may also want to add this scale of consequences to actions to the Family Collective Agreement, thus making it crystal clear what will happen if your child is not being a good digital citizen with their phone.

Cellphones, and The Age Of Contractual Consent When It Comes to Teens In Canada!

Often, we are asked by both teens and parents, “what is the legal age in Canada for a child to own a cellphone?”  To be clear, there is no “criminal” law that applies to this question.  However, contractual civil law does apply.  Given that most cellphone plans require the owner to sign a contract, each province and territory has an age of contractual consent that needs to be met to sign such a document. If your child doesn’t meet the minimum age for signing a cell-provider contract, you will either have to purchase the phone and sign the contract under your name or co-sign your child’s contract.  Just remember, if you co-sign the cell agreement and your teen misses or is late on a payment, it will show up in a negative way on “your” credit report.  Here are the required contractual signing ages in Canada:

18 years in:

  • Alberta
  • Manitoba
  • Ontario
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan

19 years in:

  • British Columbia
  • New Brunswick
  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Northwest Territories
  • Nova Scotia
  • Nunavut
  • Yukon

To throw a monkey wrench into the above-noted information; anyone, no matter the age, can purchase a prepaid cellphone anywhere in Canada. Why? there are no “contracts” to sign specific to prepaid phones. So yes, your 13yr old, if they have the money, can purchase a prepaid phone without a parent’s consent or signature.

*** Update Jan 2021 *** A New First “Smarter” Phone For Youth

As social media safety and digital literacy advocates, we stay current on the technology that is available to youth, and their family, when it comes to keeping the “onlife” world safer and more secure. In late 2020, we became aware of a new cellphone on the market called the “Pinwheel” https://pinwheel.com The Pinwheel is advertised to be a child’s “first phone that grows with your child”.  What we read about the Pinwheel intrigued us enough to connect with the company directly, to see if they would send us a phone to test and evaluate.  As many of our followers know, we are big believers in, “Don’t tell us something is going to work, show us it works”. Sometimes things that are promised by vendors in their advertising, are not necessarily what happens in real life.

After connecting with Pinwheel, they were excited to send us their phone for our testing and evaluation. We must recognize Pinwheel for taking us up on this offer. Even though we stated that we would be brutally honest about our testing and evaluation of their product publicly, they welcomed the opportunity for us to test their phone. It has been our experience that other tech vendors have shied away from this type of critical review when offered.

Within a short amount of time, we received our package from Pinwheel that contained two phones for our testing and evaluation:

Phone #1: The Pinwheel Slim (Samsung-A015) $149.00 US – Approximately $190.00 + taxes Canadian

Phone #2: The Pinwheel Rugged (UleFone Armor X7 Pro IP-68) $249.00 US – Approximately $317.00 Canadian + taxes

Although we received the phones for free, we still had to pay $75.00 in duty to the Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency.

Both phones came with instruction manuals, protective sleeves, screen protectors, and all the needed cables and adaptors.

Although both phones would fit well in the hands of most youth, there is no doubt that the Pinwheel Slim is smaller and lighter than the rugged model.  Having said this, the rugged model is very ruggedized and felt like a small tank in the palm of our hand. We conducted a drop test of 2 feet, 4 feet, 6 feet, and 8 feet with the rugged phone onto asphalt, and there was no visible damage, and it still operated within all specifications after each drop. Given that Pinwheel also advertised that their rugged phone was waterproof, we submerged the phone in a sink of water for 5 minutes to replicate a drop in a puddle, bathtub, sink, or any other body of water. Again, the phone functioned without any performance issues when pulled from the water.  We did not conduct the same testing with the slim version, even though it came with a rubberized sleeve, given our real concern over damaging the phone.

As most parents know, most youth, especially those under the age of 16yrs, don’t necessarily treat their phones with the greatest of care, thus why we believe that the Pinwheel Rugged would be best suited for younger youth.

Connectivity in Canada:

Given that we are from Canada, Pinwheel was also very interested if their phone and services would be congruent and work with cellular carriers up here in the Great White North. The answer, “YES” it does. For the test and evaluation of both phones, we used a SIM card ($10 + tax) from a Canadian company called “Public Mobile” that piggybacks on the Telus cellular network ($15 a month + tax). Connectivity and sound were above average with both phones.

It should be noted that both phones also have the ability to connect and work via Wi-Fi, and the cameras on both phones took very clear pictures and video.

Preparing the Phone and Pinwheel Software

What makes the Pinwheel different from other parent filtering and monitoring apps that integrate with the Android software operating system (OS) – the Pinwheel phone uses its own unique operating system, utilizing Android hardware, and not the Android OS which is actually uninstalled from the phone. It’s not an app, but an operating system that allows Pinwheel to completely sandbox and scaffold the phone, thus allowing full control of the phone by the parent.

Prior to activating the phone, the parent must first create and set up their “Caregiver Portal” page.  This portal allows the parent to manage all the capabilities and features that this phone, and the Pinwheel operating system, has to offer which include:

  • What apps and features, all curated by Pinwheel, are available during the day – 7 days a week, via their onboard scheduling software.
  • A parent-controlled “safelist” only calls and texts, which also allows the ability to dial 9-1-1 at any time
  • All text message history and viewing by parents
  • No web access or web browsing capability
  • No unapproved games
  • No ad-driven apps
  • No unapproved social media
  • No unapproved contacts
  • No spam calls or texts from unapproved phone numbers
  • Live GPS location of the phone, which we found was very accurate

Frustrations/Concerns:

Pinwheel freely admits that they are still in their “Beta” trial mode.  We took delivery of the phone just before Christmas and activated it just after Christmas. It appears that this phone became a very popular Christmas gift, which resulted in their servers not being able to handle the large influx of new customers, including ourselves, which resulted in us not being able to test or evaluate many of the options available on the Caregiver Portal for several weeks.  It should be noted that this challenge has now been rectified, and Pinwheel should be transitioning out of their beta trial in the late spring or early summer of 2021 for full consumer use.

Presently, Pinwheel doesn’t offer online tutorials on its Caregiver Portal set-up, and we hope that that this will be a feature that is added to their activation process.  Although we are technically savvy, setting up the Caregiver Portal, and its multitude of options, wasn’t very intuitive, and therefore will likely be very frustrating to those parents who may not be tech-savvy.  As a result, we believe that with the capabilities and features that this phone provides to parents, there should be a video tutorial menu added, to help guide parents on what each function does, and how to set them up on the Caregiver Portal.

Test and Evaluation of The Phone and The Parent Control Functions:

 We love identifying any workarounds that allow us to bypass parental controls and filters. Other than dialing out to 9-1-1, we could not send or receive phone calls from numbers that are not approved on the Caregiver Portal Safelist. Nice feature! Other things we attempted:

  • We tried to defeat the GPS location beacon when the phone was turned on, we could not do so unless we removed the SIM card or turned the phone off.
  • We attempted to access the Google Play Store, and other sites, in an attempt to access and download apps or to just surf the web; not only couldn’t we do so, but the phone doesn’t allow the user to browse the web.
  • We attempted to bypass the time modes that we set to see if we could operate the device’s parental controlled app’s outside of scheduled times, we couldn’t do so. However, it is important to note, from a safety standpoint, that we could still access 9-1-1 or the parent’s phone number at any time.

Overall, this phone does exactly what the vendor says it does. Given that the Pinwheel phone is still in its infancy, it is expected that there will continue to be some understandable growing pains and challenges, such as those that we mentioned above. It’s a phone that is completely sandboxed and scaffolded with the Pinwheel’s operating system, which is fully controlled by the parent. Yes, it looks and feels like a smartphone, which it is, but given the Pinwheel operating system, it’s more like a “smarter phone” rather than a fully functioning smartphone. Think of the Pinwheel as a youth’s first “smarter phone” with training wheels.

We acknowledge that the Pinwheel phone will probably be labeled as a “helicopter parenting” tool by its critics.  Given the ages that this phone is designed for, pre-teens and younger teens, we would agree.  However, in some circumstances, such a phone would be reasonable and warranted in our opinion, especially with younger youth. In our opinion, the Pinwheel phone is not designed for older teens who have shown good digital literacy, digital maturity, and learned respect for technology; it’s our opinion that these teens having earned the privilege to possess a fully functioning smartphone where appropriate and reasonable to do so.

Cost:

When you factor in the costs of shipping, duty, phone, SIM card, and mobile carrier, a Canadian parent is looking at approximately $300.00 + GST for the Pinwheel Slim phone and $417.00 + GST for the Pinwheel Rugged phone.  There is also a further $19.00 + GST monthly access fee for the Caregiver Portal, which is needed to make the phone function as advertised.

Opinion:

 We know that some parents are now thinking, “well, if you are not going to provide your kid with a fully functioning smartphone, why not just buy them a flip phone because they are cheaper than the Pinwheel phone.” We agree, a flip phone is always an option, but we can share with the reader, based upon our experience, it is not uncommon that a youth with a flip phone will often be ridiculed by their peers. This is a real concern that “some” parents may not understand or even concern themselves with, but it is a big deal to the child. In our opinion, the Pinwheel phone does overcome this peer perception challenge.

We were very impressed with the functionality of the pinwheel phone, what it does, and why it was created.  Having said this, we would currently consider this a “premium” phone given its pricing in Canada.  However, as the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for”.  As a parent, if you are looking for a “first phone”, that looks, feels, and functions like a smartphone, provides full parental scaffolded control, and you are willing to pay the costs associated with importing and possessing one here in Canada, then you will likely not be disappointed with the Pinwheel as your child’s first “smarter” phone. We also hope that Pinwheel can bring the pricing of their phone down here in Canada, to make it more cost affordable to a larger cohort of parents.

As we share in all our parent presentations, the best way to protect our kids in the onlife world is via parental participation, mentoring, and communication, combined with parental overwatch, via hardware and software, where reasonable and appropriate to do so. Never fall into the trap that technology, in isolation, will keep our kids safe 100% of the time. This is also true with the Pinwheel phone. Having said this, we do believe that the Pinwheel phone is a good adjunct to parental participation, mentoring, and communication strategies in the onlife world when it comes to younger youth and phone choice.

Emotional, Psychological, Physical, and Social Contraindications to Problematic Phone Use:

As we have stated several times throughout this web-book, when it comes to technology it is all about a balanced approach to the onlife world. Too much of anything is never healthy when it comes to teen emotional, psychological, physical, and social well-being.

There are “some” in our industry that likes to push the phone “addiction” narrative, something that we speak to in chapter 11.  In fact, there is one social media advocate in Canada that states publicly that “84.9%” of teens are addicted to their phones, and that “phones are the most addictive thing we can give a child, more so than cocaine.” In fact, this same person stated giving  your child a smartphone is “like snorting a line of cocaine.”  There is NO evidence-based peer-reviewed research to support these juvenoic fear-based moral panic statements, NONE!  Of interest, this same person is peddling a video-based “30 Day Digital Detox Program” for $34.99.  Go figure!

So what does good research have to say? One of the best reviews of the current research surrounding the emotional, psychological, physical, and social contraindication to “problematic phone use” comes from a 2021 literature review article from Dr Aviv M Weinstein, and PhD candidate Yehuda Wacks called, “Excessive Smartphone Use Is Associated With Health Problems in Adolescents and Young Adults” https://bit.ly/3zcJSjO 

In the summary of this literature review the researchers stated the following:

“The excessive use of the smartphone has been associated with impaired cognitive functions and mental health problems. There are unique findings on the association between using smartphones, need of constant stimulation, deficits in everyday cognitive functioning and brain changes which should send alarm signals to clinicians and educators in the modern world.”

After reading the entire article, we agree with these findings with the following 3 caveats:

  • The word “excessive” is important.  Again too much of anything is never healthy.
  • The paper makes it clear that its not how much time teens are on their phones, but what are they doing with that time that really matters.
  • The paper also makes it clear that the contraindications identified are not global in nature with all youth who use phones.
  • The paper makes it clear that there are studies showing changes to the brain with the excessive use of technology, but we don’t yet know what the negative or positive outcomes of these changes will be given the neuroplasticity of the brain. This is something that the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study is hoping to identify. https://abcdstudy.org 

Given where we are today with the good evidence-based research, we do believe that “reasonable” moderation and mediation of technology, including the use of cellphones, should be the goal of parents, something which we echo throughout this web-book.

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