The Case Against Smartphones

Gaby Heberling, Guest Writer

When at dinner, many children sit, glued to their screens, avoiding conversation with their parents. Just this past August, at the beach, a couple sat next to my family at the Lobster House and complimented my brother and I, as she described it was “nice to see children actually engaging in a nice conversation with their parents, instead of sitting on their phones.” The couple then proceeded to congratulate my parents on their job well done in parenting. While flattered, I didn’t quite understand why she was shocked to see our behavior. I didn’t even bring my phone to the restaurant. At school, many students sit on their phones, either in the library, homeroom, or even during a class. I usually don’t bring my phone to school, and was taken by surprise by the habit the smartphone has established, even at school. 


I remember last year, during a freshman year health class, every individual had to go around and announce their screen times. When it was my turn, I stated mine was around 45 minutes a day, which is usually spent reading the news or studying a Quizlet. My jaw dropped when I heard twelve hours as the most common time. Social media accounts for a large portion of many individuals’ screen time. During the summer, I deleted all my social media accounts (besides facebook, for family purposes), and can confidently say it was the best decision I made during my teenage years. I feel more connected to the world without it than I did with it. It’s addicting just like the smartphone, and honestly, I believe it has a huge factor in making the smartphone addicting. Without social media, I feel no urge to even go on my phone, and thus it usually lies turned off in my family’s charging station all day. Not only do young children have access to smartphones, but many social media platforms, which can expose them to many things they simply aren’t mature enough for.


Nowadays, it’s not unusual to see a child in elementary school with a smartphone. I  wholeheartedly question parents’ rationale about such a decision, and the effects such a complex device has on children and their childhood.


Going into middle school, all my peers had smartphones, some with the newest, and some with their parents’ old phones. Nonetheless, 11-year-olds had access to a screen mostly anytime they wanted. However, I did not. At the time I resented my parents for their decision, now, I applaud them. I begged my parents for a smartphone, practically all middle school, and yet, did not receive one until the middle of eighth grade, which came with an abundant number of rules. Looking back; however, I wished my parents waited even longer, until the start of freshman year, perhaps.


According to Melanie Curtin, a writer for “Inc,” the average child gets his or her first smartphone at 10.3 years old. That same study shows that by age 12, a full 50 percent of children have social media accounts (primarily Facebook and Instagram). Smartphones at any age are addicting. Likewise, providing children with smartphones at a young age can make the smartphone harder to break away from.  


Many parents argue that smartphones are necessary for their children to be able to communicate with them — I disagree. Yes, communication is important, but parents can easily purchase flip phones for their children to text and call them, until their brains are developed enough to handle the power of such a device. Many technology experts, such as Bill Gates, waited until their kids turned 14 to give them smartphones. Undoubtedly, smartphones are unnecessary, addictive, and harmful.


“Wait until 8th” specifically advocates for parents to wait until their child is at least in 8th grade, until they receive their first smartphone. Social media is a whole other issue, which is a result of the smartphone, and while parents may think they’re doing the right thing for their child, they’re sadly doing more harm than good. According to the “Wait until 8th” website, “These devices are quickly changing childhood for children. Playing outdoors, spending time with friends, reading books and hanging out with family is happening a lot less to make room for hours of snap chatting, instagramming, and catching up on You Tube.” Such reveals the unfortunate reality phones have established. Children are not children anymore. They’re stuck and addicted to a virtual world.


In addition, the website states, “Parents feel powerless in this uphill battle and need community support to help delay the ever-evolving presence of the smartphone in the classroom, social arena and family dinner table.” In Radnor Middle School, students are required to keep their phone shut off, in their locker, during the whole school day.  Personally, I was in support of the middle school’s strict rule about phones at school, and I wish the high school could implement something similar.


As reported by Edgar Snyder & Associates, a terrifying 94% of teens acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, and 35% admitted to doing so. Unfortunately, 21% of teen drivers involved in fatal accidents were distracted by their cell phones. Smartphones are a dangerous tool to use when operating a vehicle, and can cost teenagers their lives. Now, teenagers can plug in their phones to connect it to their car. While an exciting feature, this creates a substantial distraction as text and general notifications display themselves on the screen of the car.  Such establishes an irresistible temptation to check the glowing notification, despite the fact the individual is driving. Using the phone in the car not only poses a threat to an individual, but other drivers as they could be seriously injured in a fatal accident. 


Moreover, the United States faces a serious obesity issue, and smartphones play a significant role. According to the American College of Cardiology, university students who use their smartphones for five or more hours a day, have a whooping 43% increased risk of obesity and an increased risk to establish habits that lead to heart disease. Another study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found, “Out of nearly 25,000 U.S. teens followed during 2013-2015, 20% spent more than five hours a day in front of screens. These teens were twice as likely to drink a sugary drink each day and to not get enough sleep or exercise—and were 43% more likely to be obese—compared with teens who spent less time using their screened devices.” Ultimately, smartphones are contributing to spreading the obesity epidemic, and are not only impacting teenagers mental health, but physical health as well. 


While many children are addicted to their smartphones, adults are no exception. According to a New York Times article, “In a 2014 study, researchers in a fast-food restaurant observed caregivers on smartphones, ignoring children’s bids for attention. The caregivers finally scold the children or issue “robotic” instructions, sometimes without even looking up.” This study illustrates the lack of connections parents are creating with their children because of smartphones. According to the same article, parents are spending far less time reading with their children, and the connections the smartphones are failing to make will reveal themselves later, as such can harm a child’s social and emotional development.


While smartphones can be beneficial, society now faces an epidemic with children and smartphones at a young age. Not only do smartphones affect their childhoods, but they can have irreversible consequences, and their power is often undermined. Parents need to hold off on facing the pressures from their child and society of providing their child with a smartphone at an age when they simply aren’t developmentally ready. Children need face-to-face connections that are meaningful, and the smartphone’s virtual connections simply won’t do.