On the heels of the Wait Until 8th campaign that made news earlier this year by asking parents to delay giving young children cell phones, comes yet another reason to let your kids just be kids a little longer. According to new research out of Bridgewater State University, giving a smartphone to an eight- or nine-year-old could make them more susceptible to being bullied.
RELATED: Teaching Kids Cell Phone Etiquette
Researcher Elizabeth Englander and her colleagues surveyed nearly 4,600 students in third, fourth and fifth grades between 2014 and 2016, and found that 10 percent said they'd already been victims of a cyberbully. And the kids who owned cell phones were significantly more likely to report being a victim of cyberbullying, especially in grades 3 and 4.
"Parents often cite the benefits of giving their child a cell phone," Englander explained. "But our research suggests that giving young children these devices may have unforeseen risks as well."
Risks, the researchers speculate, that come from the fact that a phone gives your child constant access to social media and text messages, which in turns means more opportunity to engage both positively and negatively with peers, and an increased likelihood of sending or receiving an impulsive message. I know I've been guilty of it in the heat of the moment. How can we possibly expect our kids not to?
To that end, the researchers also discovered having a cell phone increases a child's odds of becoming cyberbullies themselves—and this was true in all three grades! And while the older kids were most likely to have phones—about six in 10 students—half of fourth graders and about 40 percent of third graders had them as well.
That's a lot of little kids walking around with phones! And while my own children weren't gifted with devices until they hit middle school, I get that there are also benefits to handing them over at younger ages—the ability to track your child via GPS being a big one. So IMHO the bottom line is this: No matter when you decide to hand over a device to your child, these findings are an important reminder to consider both the pros and cons before doing so.
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"At the very least," Englander added. "Parents can engage in discussions and education with their child about the responsibilities inherent in owning a mobile device, and the general rules for communicating in the social sphere."