Smartphones and children

wild about play
Children and smartphones Wild About Play


The evidence is in:

Smartphones are too addictive and are hindering our children’s brain development even in small quantities. As a society we must seize this moment. Please say yes to free play, and no to smartphones. 


As parents of an almost teenager we have been positioned to accept that adolescents will need smartphones upon joining secondary schools. Now thanks to a group of brave parents under the Smartphone free childhood movement, parents are taking on the big tech giants to say: “Enough – this is an addictive world that our children are being lured into and smartphone ownership for children should be banned until they are much older – 14 or 16”. Here’s five reasons why I agree and am part of this movement:

1. Smartphone use increase is linked with a decrease in outdoor play and unsupervised children’s activities associated with healthy brain development.

Jonathan Haidt, author of “ The Anxious Generation” reports that children’s outdoor play and socialisation has decreased significantly since the introduction of smartphones in 2010. Supervised activities have increased while unsupervised activities have decreased. Children need to spend time away unseen and away from the direct focus of an adult (but still in a safe and managed environment) – essential for confidence and for healthy brain development. A study by the Guardian on 20 April 2021 found that many UK children were not allowed to play outside until two years older than their parents’ generation. The lead author describes that firstly children are not getting opportunities to assess and manage risk independently. Secondly, if children are getting less time to play in the outdoors in an adventurous way then this will have an impact on their mental health and overall wellbeing. We know this is FACT  from the work we do and the research on this matter.

2.Generation Z ( children born mid to late 1990s) data shows a marked increase of psychological disorders:

Research completed by Jonathan Haidt in his book “ The Anxious Generation” cites a significant increase amongst this age group who have seen the introduction of smartphones since 2010. Data across the US, UK and Australia shows a marked increase in non fatal self harm incidents . Equally there has also been a marked increase in teen suicides since the introduction of smart phones. Jonathan Haidt cites a 134% increase in girls since 2010 and 109% increase in boys since 2010.

3.There is a clear link between an increase of daily average time spent on a smartphone and a decrease of time spent with friends (65% since 2010).

One study in Jonathan Haidt’s book shows how teen daily average time with friends has dropped to 40 minutes per day in 2021 where it used to be 160 minutes per day in 2003. As a result many adolescents cite a distinct increase in school loneliness worldwide across all continents. The main ones being in English Speaking countries ( Jonathan Haidt and the the Programme for International Student Assessment)

4.Brain hindrance, attention fragmentation and loss of creativity:

The primary and teenage years are pivotal years for brain formation and brain development. These are formative years for the pre- frontal cortex’s development and maturation. Children in teenage years should be practising their ability to formulate goals, stay on task and achieve these goals. Attention on smartphones leads to dopamine hungry brains that are not focused on tasks and are distracted all the time. This has harmful effects on the brain. In girls they can become self and image obsessed leading to sociogenic mental illness – this aside from sexual predation issues and harassment which girls are more susceptible to. In boys this amounts to retreating from the real world and can lead to porn addiction and loss of drive and skills to do much, let alone play and talk to girls. Dr Rahul Jandial a famous American brain surgeon and neuroscientist specifies clearly in his book, “Life Lessons from a Brain Surgeon”, that creativity gained during free play in the outdoors early years and childhood sows the very important seeds for creativity in adulthood. A skill that advances adaptation, progress, resilience and greater accomplishments in life. 

5.Addiction and its impact on the children and the rest of the family

We have all experienced the tantrums and dramas associated with taking away children from technology. For many children ( i appreciate some are the exception) the only way out of this is to limit use of technology and extoll the virtues of outdoor free play, community and connection. We need to support our children through this phase. Of Course technology should be an enabler but only at an age where children’s brains can manage this. Keeping children away from smart phones until they are 14 and away from social media until they are 16 is the answer.

For more support on play and how you can have healthy conversations around technology with your little ones please click here to speak to our team who will be happy to chat to you. 


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