7 Reasons Science Hates Your Child’s Smartphone

It's not just about screen time. Smartphones are straight up bad for kids, according to science.

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There are plenty of awesome presents you can buy your kids for the holidays, but scientists agree — smartphones are a rotten choice. Sure, staring at a screen isn’t great for adults (and for kids, it can be doubly damaging) but it’s not just about the screen time. Smartphones also interfere with a child’s sleep cycle when he or she needs it most, and can distract children from their schoolwork. Together, the studies suggest that an iPhone is a terrible Christmas present.

Smartphones Can Mess With Your Kid’s Sleep Cycle

A smartphone could undo all that time and effort you spent on sleep training, research suggests. There’s ample evidence that unnatural light from screens disrupts melatonin, a hormone that influences the sleep-wake cycle, causing sleep problems. One study in Pediatrics found that smartphones also keep kids up late playing games and texting their friends. So it’s not as simple as dimming the blue light — the distraction of an iPhone itself keeps kids wired.

Or Turn Them Into Jerks

Virtual assistants, a common feature of smartphones, may be one reason why kids don’t say “please” and “thank you” anymore, experts suspect. Since the Alexas of the world don’t require politeness as a part of their commands, psychologists like Sandra Calvert of Georgetown University are concerned children will lose it if they don’t use it. “How they react and treat this non-human entity is, to me, the biggest question,” Calvert told the Washington Post. “And how does that subsequently affect family dynamics and social interactions with other people?”

And Get In The Way Of Their Education

Professors are currently being pressured to utilize smartphone technology in classrooms, but current research suggests this doesn’t work. Other studies show that students perform about 70 percent better in school when smartphones are not incorporated into lessons. One reason is that, once you give students an excuse to look at their phones, you’ve already lost them.

Smartphones Could Put Kids At Risk Of Addiction

Smartphones can lead to addiction among older children and may even alter the structure of their brain, a new study suggests. After using magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) on adolescents previously diagnosed with “smartphone addiction”, researchers found that this addiction was associated with an increase in the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. Fortunately, cognitive behavioral therapy seems to help bring this down. 

Even When Not Addictive, They Can Be Downright Depressing

The rise in smartphone use among adolescents and the increase in depression among the same demographic may not be a coincidence, a study published in Clinical Psychological Science suggests. Though the findings show a correlation instead of proving a direct cause, study co-author Jean Twenge of San Diego State University says this should still be cause for concern.

“One hour, maybe two hours [a day], doesn’t increase risk all that much,” Twenge told NPR. “But once you get to three hours — and especially four and then, really, five hours and beyond — that’s where there’s much more significant risk of suicide attempts, thinking about suicide, and major depression.”

A Smartphone Could Increase Your Kid’s Obesity Risks

Children who spend more than five hours in front of a smartphone were 43 percent more likely to be obese than their peers, Harvard research reveals. In this way, the impact of a smartphone is less like that of a telephone and more like that of a television. If Pokémon Go is the only way your kid is getting outside and exercising, then they’re pika-screwed.

Children Are in Competition With Smartphones for Attention

Science doesn’t just hate it when kids have smartphones. It hates it when parents use them in front of their children too. Although they appear to be friendly, young kids and phones are natural enemies competing for parental attention — at least that’s what findings published in Child Development imply. Results indicated that the more parents paid attention to their phones, the worse children behaved in order to get their parents’ attention. So even if you avoid getting your kid a smartphone until they’re older, your own smartphone use could be screwing them up. 

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