“Wow,” I said enthusiastically, you’ll have some fun with that! The perfect gift, I thought, for a boy who loves physical activity, who is always outside, always running around with a ball or riding his bike, has healthy glowing skin and a lean athlete’s body.
“That’s a great birthday present!” I said.
“Guess what else I’m getting!” he declared.
“What?,” I inquired.
“My own smartphone!” he shouted.
Cue the orchestra fading away into a whimper.
“Oh,” I said, “okay.”
A smartphone. At nine. No eejit, he twigged my lack of enthusiasm.
“Lots of my friends have them,” he informed me brightly.
“I’m sure they have,” I told him gloomily. “Tell me; what would you do with a smartphone?”
He could message his friends he said. He could play games on it. He could watch cartoons and look stuff up.
“Oh, yes,” I said grimly, “you could certainly sit inside all day just looking stuff up.”
He looked at me.
“You don’t like smartphones?” he asked.
“Well, I’m not a great fan of kids using them”, I said.
“Why?” he asked.
I could have told him that the online world can pull children in very fast, that according to CyberSafeKids which has carried out significant, ongoing research into the digital experiences of children aged eight to 12, even by this age many are already fully embedded in the online world.
The findings of CSKs latest study, carried out last September, shows that more than 95% of children in this age-bracket own their own smart device (though 50% don’t have a smartphone) and that they are accessing and using services which are not necessarily designed for their age group. Something about which many parents appear to be unaware; there are actually few age-appropriate or purposely designed online services for children according to CSK.
They will register for accounts that may not be appropriate or lack the safeguards, while service providers may not realise that a child has accessed services as the child may have used a false date of birth to appear older in order to gain access.
Here is where things get scary: One in 10 children has watched pornography by the age of nine, according to disturbing research published by the Children’s Commissioner for England at the start of this year. The study found that a quarter of pupils in their final year of primary school had already been exposed to porn.
It found that much of the material being consumed by children and young people features violence. One educator commented on the harmful impact that pornography has on young people. A girl had told her about her first kiss with her boyfriend at the age of 12 – he tried to strangle her because he’d seen it on a porn channel and thought this was what you did.
Research carried out by Common Sense, a non-profit media company focused on kids and families, found that most kids have viewed porn by age 12.
Wouldn’t you rather they were out jumping on a trampoline? Why on earth give them a choice?
Other things parents should know before they invest in one of these devices:
More than a quarter of children with social media or instant messaging accounts have friends or followers whom they don’t know offline.
Nearly 20% report playing over-18s games. Boys are 31% more likely to do this. *One third of children game online with people they don’t know offline. *Nearly two-thirds of children have been contacted by a stranger in an on-line games. This has happened a few times with 44% of them, and a lot of times with 20% of them. *Children who play overage games can encounter content that is not appropriate – they may view content of a sexual nature, extreme or gender-based violence or simply bad language. More than 30% of boys under the age of 13 who were surveyed said they had played an over-18s online game.
CSK’s study found a strong association between children playing online games meant for over-18s and experiencing something negative online. So, yes, playing over-18s games is significantly associated with the experience of being bothered by something online.
More than 26% of children have seen or experienced something online in the last year that bothered them, and nearly 30% of them have experienced some form of online bullying. A quarter of all the children surveyed reported that they had seen something that bothered them.
Further research unearthed the fact that under-age children playing over-18 online games is very strongly associated with a lack of rules or boundaries around the use of and access to devices.
So, here’s the thing. As a parent who may be thinking about buying a youngster a smart device, how willing or able are you to monitor your child’s online life? Do you have the time or the energy to keep up with what they’re doing online?
According to the experts, parental engagement in their children’s online lives is one of the most important strategies for both protecting and empowering children online. Regular conversations between parent and child is crucial. Keep a close eye on what they’re doing. Making sure there is good communication in place, that there are good, effective strong boundaries around use and access.
Good example is key as well – are you, as a parent, always on your phone at the dinner table or when you’re with them at the playground? So back to the nine-year-old getting a smartphone for his birthday who was wondering why I’m not a fan of them for children.What could I say? I said that I felt smartphones encouraged children to just stay inside and sit around playing games on a screen on their own instead of being out with their friends playing football, running around or jumping on the trampoline. That is not good for his body or his mind, I said.
Also, I explained, the internet has a lot of stuff on it that is not good for children. There are people online who are not nice people. He should always ensure that he stayed safe on line and to talk to Mum and Dad about what he was doing online and to tell them if he came across anything that upset him or bothered him.
Be careful, I said, adding a bit hopelessly: “That trampoline is a really great present!”