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Tweens are smart about smartphones: Study

Everything about this study is smart — the 10-14 year-old respondents (average age 11), what the authors are modeling for pediatricians and parents, and the tweens’ answers. For example, when asked what age kids should be given mobile phones, one answer was:

Tween owners: Zooming in on SMAHRT’s handout for parents

“It’s not an age. I think it’s more of a maturity thing,” said one young respondent. Another’s answer was, “Probably when they know right from wrong, like…not to cyberbully.”

The study, just published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, was conducted by a team of researchers called SMAHRT, for Social Media and Mental Health Research Team, at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine. Their aim—what they’re modeling for parents and pediatricians—was to hear from early adolescents themselves about their experiences with smartphone ownership. Their three main takeaways from talking with these kids were their maturity, accountability and deference to parents.

Not all fun & games

Among the 10-15 year-olds they surveyed, the authors found 64% owned smartphones, 13% owned no phone, 20% didn’t disclose whether they did, and 2% owned a non-smart phone (a more basic phone used more for just calling). Seventy-three percent had at least one social media account and 27% didn’t. “Their uses of their phones were very diverse and not just entertainment-driven,” wrote the study’s lead author, pediatrician Megan Moreno, in an email to me.

“Young teens associate smartphone ownership with a sense of maturity and responsibility,” Dr. Moreno wrote, and parents may find it interesting that their children actually want their parents’ guidance on how, and how much, to use their phones.

More about sociality than tech

One reason why children want their parents’ guidance could well be because smartphones are very much social tools, among many other things, and socializing in upper elementary and middle school can be tricky for kids to navigate without a little help from parents and older siblings.

“We also found that many young teens receive a phone without ever asking for it, Moreno wrote, and a handout that her team has prepared for parents says that “tweens [said they] preferred to have rules in place so they didn’t overuse technology. [They] emphasized that parents should monitor accounts to make sure their tween was being safe and appropriate online.” Check out the handout for more.

Related links

  • Dr. Moreno also worked on a major update on bullying and cyberbullying prevention published by the National Academies of Sciences, Technology and Engineering in 2016 which I wrote about and linked to here
  • Dr. Moreno also worked on a major update on bullying and cyberbullying prevention published by the National Academies of Sciences, Technology and Engineering in 2016 which I wrote about and linked to here.
  • The SMAHRT program’s home page
  • How teens’ social media use changing” from Pew Research
  • A number of researchers pushed back against headlines about a colleague’s suggestion last year that smartphones could “destroy a generation.” In fact, one scholar, Alexandra Samuel, wrote: “Fellow parents, it’s time for us to consider another possible explanation for why our kids are increasingly disengaged. It’s because we’ve disengaged ourselves; we’re too busy looking down at our screens to look up at our kids. I know: it’s how I live myself.”
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