Photo: child watching something on a smart phone

Smartphone Use Increasing Among Young Children

Posted on November 18, 2019 by Kim Doleatto, Herald-Tribune Media Group
No one knows the right age to start carrying a computer in your pocket.

But more than half of 11-year-olds now own a smartphone, according to a recent national survey of more than 1,600 8- to 18-year-olds.

And the trend is on the rise.

“The use of technology in our daily lives is aging down dramatically,” said Eisha Buch, senior manager of education programs at Common Sense Media, the nonprofit organization that led the survey.

And children are mostly using their smartphones to watch YouTube, regardless of the 13-years-or-older-only policy.

Fifty-six percent of 8- to 12-year-olds watch videos every day, up from 24% in 2015, and the average time spent watching has roughly doubled to just under five hours a day, according to the report.

“We’re concerned about how the content takes kids down paths that offer bad information,” Buch said.

While usage increases and the age of smartphone ownership decreases, education and guidelines about how to navigate the online information they’re exposed to has yet to catch up. The technology used in elementary classrooms is mostly limited to course work and testing, and largely ignores media literacy.

Another recent study by the Pew Research Center revealed that adults felt fake news was more pressing than issues like terrorism, racism, and sexism.

So how do children learn to be what Buch calls “responsible digital citizens” and differentiate what’s real from what’s not, before commenting, sharing or perpetuating questionable online information in real life?

Buch consults with and trains teachers and school leaders about guidelines surrounding such concerns, and organizations like Common Sense Media are working to spread a culture of digital responsibility. In the meantime, the bulk of the work has to come from parents and caretakers.

“It does take a community approach to be effective. We want it coming from home and school, so it’s being reinforced from everywhere,” she said.

And to answer the popular question: What’s a good age to give my child a smartphone?

Buch said, “We don’t have a magic number, but it depends on what the need is, and whether it feels appropriate. When it happens, we just encourage guidelines and open dialogue about how to use it.”

Tips for parents of young children who love the channel are encouraged to do the following:
  • Ask your kids what they’re watching. Join them.

  • Check their watch history. If they have a YouTube account, which only requires a Gmail address, their YouTube page will show recently watched videos. Even if they delete it, the recommended videos will be related to what they’ve watched.

  • Research the creator of the video. Their name is beneath the video window and usually has information about them. Google the creator’s name to find out more.

  • YouTube comments are often negative, but reading them can reveal the channels’ demographics and more. Channel creators can moderate the comments, and a tasteful comments section may point to a more responsible creator.

  • Nurture critical thinking skills.
This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire, and engage the community to take action on issues related to Age-Friendly Sarasota, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, National Council on Aging and the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition.

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