Hold the (smart)phone: kids going mobile

·2-min read

About a third of Australian 12-year-olds have their own smartphone, and on average they were aged seven-and-a-half when they got their first.

The statistics come from a recent survey of parents which found a decreasing age at which kids are getting their first smartphone.

The polling by comparison site Finder questioned 1033 parents and promoted the use of pre-paid phone plans so that expenses don't get out of hand.

But what's the impact of smartphone use on young people?

Deakin University researcher Sharon Horwood has tried to decipher the relationship between people and their smartphones and the impact on wellbeing.

"Society has a history of panicking about the latest technologies and their potential effects on the young people who use them," she told a TEDx audience in July.

"We've been worried about video games, before that televisions, and before that radios, and before that even books. And none of those things have torn apart the fabric of society.

"Could problematic smartphone use just be the next iteration of social panic about the latest technology? The answer seems to be 'no'."

Dr Harwood's lengthy research has surveyed people aged 18 to 93 and surfaced multiple concerns about "problematic smartphone use", which can include dependence, craving and loss of control.

"It's not just the old people worrying about the kids and their computers," she said.

"We also found that problematic smartphone use was consistently higher in adults all the way through to age 40. So the idea or stereotype of the older generation worrying about or disapproving of the latest technology, didn't seem to hold up."

Finder spokesman Angus Kidman said the reasons why children get smartphones varied.

"If they're taking a solo bus trip to school everyday, a mobile phone might give (parents) peace of mind that they're safe.

"Our kids see us use our smartphones for everything from streaming Netflix to paying for dinner, so it's no wonder that younger generations are becoming more dependent on technology."

Australia's top three states for under-12s with smartphones are NSW (45 per cent), Western Australia (35 per cent) and Victoria (30 per cent).

Dr Harwood said the benefits of smartphone technology are vast in areas including health and education, but warned that failure to regularly "disconnect" can have impacts such as lulls in happiness and decreased relationship satisfaction.

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