The Impact Smartphones Have on Your Kids

For many of us, our smartphones have become an indispensable part of our lives. But are they also an indispensable part of your kids’ lives? Many studies show that frequent smartphone use can have a negative effect on your kids, but many parents find them to be an easy way to keep their kids occupied. So what is a parent to do?

Rhonda Martin, a board-certified clinical counselor, recently stopped by Morning Air® to discuss the impact that smartphones have on our kids, and how we can limit their screen time.

“Part of it is understanding how addictive it is,” Martin said. “These programs are set up to trigger rushes of dopamine in the brain, which keeps them coming back over and over, looking for that gadget.  When they’re feeling that bored feeling or that agitated feeling, it makes them look for it.”

But how serious is this? Many see smartphones as simply part of the new landscape of our world, and something kids will need to learn to navigate. But Martin warned that parents should not underestimate the addictive nature of smartphones and the effect that can have on our children.

“It’s important for us to understand the role of dopamine and addiction,” she said. “Dopamine is that feel-good chemical in the brain, and people who have more serious addictions with drugs and alcohol get that. It’s time that we look at this in a serious way, and we understand what dopamine does and how it is an addictive chemical in our brain. Protecting these children at this point is definitely a paramount focus for all of us.”

If you are a parent looking to limit your child’s smartphone use, Martin offered some suggestions to help your child understand and cope with these new restrictions.

“When you take it away or when you reduce the time, don’t think that it’s going to be an easy process,” Martin said. “It’s not. We have to realize what is happening when we take it away. This child is going to have mood swings, they are going to have anger at the parent, they are going to be frustrated, they are going to be bored, and then they are going to be agitated because they are bored. And then they are going to explain to you that it’s your fault that they’re bored.”

But Martin said that there are ways to mitigate the side effects of ‘detoxing’ when you limit your child’s screen time.

“Explain it to them,” she said. “Tell them it’s going to be really difficult because the phones are programmed to make you want to use them more and more. … Plan to do some physical activities with that child, so that they get exercise.  You’ve got to do something physical to control some of that anger, frustration, and mood swings. Because when you take something like this away, it’s a very terrible feeling to not have that dopamine when you’re used to it.

Older children, whose peers have smartphones, may fear the social ramifications of being left out by not having access to a smartphone. For these older kids, Martin suggests turning that peer pressure around, by focusing not on who does have a smartphone, but who doesn’t.

“My children go to school with LeBron James’ kids,” she said. “They do not have smartphones. So I use an example of someone who is in that age group, who is perceived to be very popular and cool, who does not have one.”

And Martin predicts that this tactic will become easier as more parents restrict their kids’ access to smartphones in the future. “As parents become more and more educated, I think we are going to see a turning point on this,” she said.

Martin stressed that limiting children’s screen time to less than one hour per day will be difficult, but given the negative effects that smartphones have on a child’s emotional and social skills, it is an important step that parents should take. When it comes to making that decision to restrict screen time, Martin said the most important thing to remember is:

“Be prepared as a parent for what happens when you do it, but be willing to do it.”

Listen to the full conversation with Rhonda Martin below:

Morning Air can be heard weekdays from 6:00 – 9:00 a.m. Eastern/3:00 – 6:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio®.