Kids’ Mobile Device Use Worldwide: How Do Yours Compare?

by Anna Hughes on 07/02/2018
References are often made in the media about whether the US is “lagging” or “further ahead” of Europe or Japan or another nation. And if you look at the raw numbers, it can feel a bit surprising; the older an American child is, and the more affluent they are, the more likely they are to own a smartphone. But is that a bad thing? And is that really the whole story?

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Culture Matters

The first point that needs to be considered is that every culture has different approaches to smartphones and other devices. For example, in Italy and the UK, according to one survey, kids were expected to shut off their phones and didn’t use them in school. In Denmark, schools made use of smartphones extensively. But the US is well behind South Korea, a nation where most children have a smartphone by the end of grade school.

It’s important to look at the different cultures and expectations, here. Asia is a good example: Singaporean children often get their homework assignments via app, for example, and often classes use educational software on phones to enhance lessons, such as working out complex equations and helping students understand how they function, or to teach calligraphy without wasting paper. But the American educational system, as any parent who’s had to look up Common Core and how it works knows, is very different in its approach.

There’s also the question of “addiction,” although we should be careful about using such a loaded term to describe behavior. Kids have less self-control, and as a result, there’s one thing universally agreed on, by parents, teachers, and device manufacturers alike: Parents need to set boundaries, and parental control apps can help parents enforce those boundaries fairly and consistently.

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Family Matters

Just how much screen time is too much screen time depends on both what your children are using the screen for. Research for homework and checking notes for assignments can’t really be classified as part of “smartphone addiction,” after all. And many parents see phones not as toys but as lifelines; busy kids especially need to be able to call for a ride or for help. Clearly, parental control apps can’t interfere with legitimate smartphone uses.

The first question to ask starts with the rest of the family. Parents need to lead by example; if you’re playing games and goofing off on screens all day, kids take note of that and will follow your lead. They’ll also likely angrily point out the “do as I say, not as I do” nature of banning phones for them while you indulge.

The second question is the hard boundaries. These are moments like bedtime, school hours where a phone isn’t necessary, and other blocks of time where the phone isn’t needed. These should be imposed clearly and everyone should understand why these rules are in place. Again, the right parental control app can be an excellent backstop for keeping boundaries in place and consistent.

Finally, you should deal with the grey areas, like using phones to help with homework or reading times where kids use a screen instead of a paper book. Talk about these grey areas and set clear, fair standards as well as consequences for trying to sneak in a few rounds of Candy Crush. And if you need help setting boundaries, learn more about Screen Time. Screen Time Labs understands that parental control apps, used by caring, conscientious parents, can help keep phones useful and fun, without allowing devices to take over too much of kids’ lives.

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