For Better or Worse

May 10, 2024, 13:17 PM by Dr. Sally Robinson

Baby with iPhone Designed by Freepik

For better or for worse, cell phones are here to stay.  The phenomena of cell phones and other devices is a recent development for humans and the impact it is having on the developing human brain is still unknown.  There is no doubt that cell phones are a major pathway for communication.  They can be a source of education and entertainment.  They can help link parent and child wit concerns of transportation, possible emergencies or monitoring baby sitters and child care.  Last but not least they are instant access to email and other platforms both educational and entertaining.

However they are not free from risks. There is good evidence that there is a high risk for addiction to this technology leading to overuse.  This excessive overuse is associated with obesity, inadequate sleep time, developmental delays and a negative impact in parent-child interactions.  It should be noted that excessive overuse is not limited to children or teens.

This very convenient access to a wide range of digital media potentially exposes children to mature content (another way of saying porn) and predatory influences.  Common Sense Media reported in Teens and Pornography that 73% of teen respondents age 13-17 have watched pornography online and more than half (54%) had seen it by the time they were 13 years.  For better or worse, online pornography is shaping views about sex and sexual relationships as nearly half (45%) said they felt online porn gave them helpful information about sex.

Dr. Candice Jones reports in Contemporary Pediatrics that children are targets for marketing information with apps for children under 5 having commercial ads.  Advertisers also use children’s data to personalize their ads.   The intent of the ads is to influence their behavior, having a potential impact on their body image and self-esteem.  Forty percent of teens using social media reported cyberbullying which increases their risk of suicide, depression, school absenteeism, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and AT&T developed a 10-question tool to help consider a child’s behavior and maturity while considering a cell phone readiness.(

Certain basic safety rules should be set.  1. Text with respect and understand private texts can easily become public.  2. Refrain from calling or answering unknown numbers. 3. Take and share photos only with consent. 4. Download apps, games, music only with parental consent as they may cost money and contain mature content and 5. Post with thoughtful consideration, being careful to protect private information and location.

Dr. Jones also suggest starting out with a smartwatch for kids such as Verizon’s Gizmo Watch, then a basic phone with limited range of functions such as Nokia 225, a flip phone such as Jitterbug or a prepaid phone for a trial run.

Because of the vulnerability of children’s brains, it is necessary to become good digital parents and citizens. Policy makers and media companies need to be held accountable for protecting children in this digital age.

Dr. Sally Robinson
Clinical Professor, Dept. of Pediatrics

Keeping Kids Healthy
Published 04/2023


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