Kid phone

Multicultural group of friends using cellphones - Students sitting in a row and typing on the smartphones

Smartphones are hot items on many children’s Christmas lists this year. While it seems like a harmless purchase, parents should consider every aspect of smartphone usage before purchasing them for their children.

Tom Kersting, a licensed psychotherapist for Valley Family Counseling in Ridgewood, N.J., and a public school counselor, examines this issue in his soon-to-be-released book “Disconnected: Why We Should Rescue Our Kids from Our Electronic Devices.” In the 15 years Kersting has worked with students he has seen the negative impact of technology on their abilities to manage stress and anxiety.

“Research shows the effects that technology is having on kids’ brains,” Kersting says. “We’re seeing more high school students diagnosed with ‘acquired attention deficit disorder’ and anxiety disorders, as a result. I see more kids who lack coping skills and the ability to manage the bumps and bruises of every day life.”

Cells Out

Parents often ask Kersting what is the appropriate age for a child to be given a smartphone. His answer: “When are you ready for your child to see pornography?”

While that question makes parents uncomfortable, the likelihood of children being exposed to inappropriate images is greater than some may want to believe, he said.

“If you think a 12-year-old boy isn’t going to click on a provocative image that appears on his screen, then you’ve got another thing coming,” Kersting said.

In addition to the temptations that smartphones present, students who are “too connected” often do not develop strong emotional relationships with other members of their family, Kerting said; and that can then lead to other long-term emotional and social problems.

“Every teenager I counsel shares one thing in common: They are in their bedrooms with their devices, disengaged from the family,” he said. “We’re living as individuals glued to a screen and not communicating with one another.”

Dr. Tania Kannadan, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh, reminds parents that owning a smartphone is a privilege and should not be taken for granted.

Set Some Guidelines

Parents who choose to give their children smartphones should establish firm guidelines including how and when the devices can be used, Kannadan and Kersting recommended. Kannadan suggests avoiding usage during dinner and at bedtime, as it can disrupt a person’s sleep.

Kim Augostosky works as a registered nurse in Kannadan’s medical practice. She, too, believes parents must keep a close watch over their children’s cellphone usage.

“Monitoring is key to allowing kids to have cellphones,” Augustosky says. “There are apps parents can use to monitor which websites and texts their children are writing and reading.”

As with anything, it’s also important for parents to model healthy habits.

“Parents have to practice what they preach,” Kersting says. “We’re all connected to a screen and sometimes parents don’t even realize they are disengaged from their children. Our kids need us on an emotional level. When we’re home as a family we need to be unplugged and communicating.”

While parents’ decisions may vary based on individual circumstances, none should not feel pressured to buy smartphones for their children simply because the kid next door has one.

“Parents must stay grounded and stick to their values and beliefs, regardless of what everyone else is doing,” Kersting said.