Most parents are on a sticky wicket on this issue. They may feel the need to stay connected with a child and give into the demands for a cellphone.
By Ankita A Talwar
When was the last time your adolescent asked for, or more likely, demanded a cellphone? Or, you were told, rather innocently, by the younger child, that anytime you decide to buy yourself a new phone, you could pass on your current one to him or her? Possibly just a couple of days back, if not more recently! In effect, if you are a parent, it’s a bullet you can’t dodge for too long.
The vexation of children demanding a phone along with the concern of parents, centered around the child’s safety, is an issue the parenting community doesn’t seem to tire of discussing. Recently, on a popular online mothers’ community, when one parent asked how she could dissuade her 13-year-old son from demanding a cellphone, the query received over 150 within hours of getting posted, with several more “following” the thread. Quite obviously, most parents are on a sticky wicket on this issue.
Dr Dayal Mirchandani, Behavioural Medicine Expert and Psychiatrist, Mumbai, concurs, “Many parents seek advice on the right age to give their child a cellphone. However, it’s not really about the age of the child, but how mature they are to handle the freedom of owning a cellphone responsibly.” Ownership of a cellphone could be potentially addictive, resulting in distraction from studies and sports, social withdrawal, secrecy, exposure to the risk of stalking, inappropriate sexual activities, cyberbullying and unsafe behaviour on social media. It also means opening the door to unhealthy radiation. The blue light of the screen is known to disturb the circadian cycle of the body, leading to sleep disorders, impaired memory and early development of cataract. The constant exposure to stimuli and sensory overload causes a hyper-aroused nervous system or what is known in the medical field as electronic screen syndrome.
To reach a fair decision, it may make sense to assess how focussed your child is and how he or she perceives the integration of a cellphone in their life. If you feel you’re blessed with a child who finishes their work on time, if not always but two out of three times, is enthusiastic about sports, sincere (even partly) about schoolwork, play, park-time and other aspects of life, and has the ability to maintain a balance, you may consider handing over the cellphone. But this statement comes with its own riders, based on the genuine need for a mobile phone.
Parents sometimes give the child a cellphone given the need to stay connected (since many kids are constantly on the move between school/college, hobby classes), but the risks have to be outweighed with the benefits. If your child stays out of home for long stretches of time, travels long distances to school or coaching, given the safety concern, you may give in to this necessary evil, but “only if the situation necessitates. Even then, it’s advisable to give the child a basic phone—and not a smartphone—possibly where there is none or limited internet access, so that the functionality of the phone is achieved sans the nuisance value of it,” adds Dr Rachna K Singh, HoD, Clinical Psychologist, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon.
It’s safe to assume that children below the age of 10 years definitely do not need a cellphone, since chances of them moving around the city unaccompanied are really low. It’s only when the child is independent enough to be allowed to move on their own, should parents bite the bait. And, that too, with a functional phone that lets you make and receive calls sans the frills of fancy cameras, internet access and app downloads.
Which brings us to the next concern—peer pressure! Realistically speaking, it’s not a good idea to deprive children of something so omnipresent. Kids get into the habit of sneakily using devices at the homes of their friends or relatives and may feel left behind at school if they are not in touch with the ‘lingo’ of the day—selfies and what-nots, cautions Dr Mirchandani. So walk the thin line, albeit carefully! “If you do give your kid a smartphone with ample features, then supervise its usage closely. Avoid going in for a unlimited data-pack and opt for a pre-paid card; let your kid shoulder the payment of these extravagances; restrict hours; install softwares to protect your child’s identity and integrity and make rules about usage at night-time and during family time,” advises Dr Singh. “At my own house, with an adolescent daughter, we have a no-phone policy when going out as a family and during mealtimes. A fellow mom has an excellent policy during play dates, making it mandatory for kids to deposit their cellphones with her so they interact rather than huddling over their phones,” she adds. That is a tip to take home!
Also, like you would with driving, explain to children the harmful effects of cellphone radiation. Till as recently as February 2018, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of World Health Organization (WHO) classified RF (radio-frequency) fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.
With awareness about such dramatic effects of cellphones on children, think carefully before you give in to the demand!