Two out of every three children between the ages of 10 and 15 have a cell phone. A figure that is around 24% in those under 10 years of age and that shoots up to 94.8% among adolescents of 15 years. This is an increasingly common phenomenon in a hyper-connected society in which the mobile phone has become a “necessity” even for the smallest of the house. In fact, children ask for their first cell phone at an increasingly early age and many parents even decide to give it to them as one more toy. However, although the mobile phone can become an excellent ally for children’s entertainment, it is important to bear in mind that this device is not a toy for children.
According to the Royal Spanish Academy of the Language, a toy is an “object with which children play and develop certain capacities”. From this point of view, basically any object that children play with could be considered a toy, but in practice this is not the case since only objects that have a playful function are considered toys, that is, they were created to entertain children. A simple example: children can play with a pillow, but the pillow is not a toy. This same reasoning applies to cell phones. The smartphone was not created to entertain children, that is just one of its different functions. Furthermore, although most children tend to quickly develop incredible skills to use a mobile phone, in reality they do not have enough psychological maturity to understand the different functionalities of a mobile phone, much less understand the risks to which they are exposed when “playing” with a smartphone.
Social networks, messaging systems, applications for adults and the Internet in a general sense are other functions that are available on most cell phones and that represent a potential danger for the little ones at home. From bullying to child abuse, many of the risk situations that children are exposed to today take place online through cell phones. Parental control apps promise to protect children from this kind of danger, but in reality the risks don’t go away entirely.
Frequent cell phone use has also been linked to an increase in cognitive disorders in childhood such as memory problems, learning delays and attention deficit, as well as emotional problems such as lack of self-control, impulsivity and behavior problems. Using a mobile phone from an early age also increases the chances of developing addiction to technology, as well as becoming a major risk factor for substance abuse in adolescence. In addition, it increases the risk of obesity, sleep disorders and visual disturbances.
Of course, the final decision to give a cell phone to children is in the hands of the parents. However, it is recommended to wait to take this step until the little ones are old enough to use the phone consciously and are able to understand the risks to which they are exposed. In any case, it is essential to maintain good communication with children on this subject so that they can ask for help if they feel at any time that they are in danger.