Mobile phone use among children: A balancing act between benefits and risks

The use of smartphones has developed rapidly in recent years and has become an essential part of our daily lives. This development does not stop at children. While mobile phones offer numerous benefits, there are also serious concerns about their impact on children’s development. We explain the various aspects of mobile phone use in children and provide tips for responsible use.

The spread of mobile phones among children

Studies show that the average age of first contact with smartphones is falling steadily. According to a survey conducted by Bitkom Research in 2019, 33 per cent of 8 to 9-year-olds in Germany own a smartphone. Among 12 to 13-year-olds, the figure is almost all – 95 per cent. These figures make it clear that mobile phones have become an integral part of many children’s lives.

Note: You can check whether your child is fit enough for their first smartphone with the help of a checklist from (in German)

Advantages of mobile phone use

  • Communication and safety: An obvious advantage of mobile phone use is the possibility of constant communication. Children can reach their parents at any time, which gives them a sense of security. In an emergency, help can be called quickly, which gives both parents and children a reassuring feeling.
  • Education and learning: Smartphones can be a valuable resource for learning. There are numerous apps and online platforms that can help children learn. Interactive educational games, educational apps and access to online libraries expand knowledge and encourage interest in different subjects.
  • Social interaction: Social media plays an important role in social life for older children and young people. Platforms such as WhatsApp, Instagram and TikTok offer opportunities for networking and socialising with friends. This form of communication can be particularly important in times of school closures or quarantine in order to maintain social contacts.

Risks and negative effects

  • Distraction and addiction: A major risk of mobile phone use among children is distraction. Smartphones offer numerous opportunities for entertainment, such as games and social media, which can easily distract children from schoolwork and other important activities. Studies have shown that high mobile phone use is associated with poorer academic performance and reduced attention span.
  • Psychosocial effects: Psychosocial problems should also not be underestimated. Excessive use of social media can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, especially when children are constantly confronted with idealised depictions of life and appearance. Cyberbullying is another serious problem that is exacerbated by constant accessibility via mobile phones.
  • Health effects: Long-term mobile phone use can also have health effects. Physical problems include eye strain due to prolonged staring at the screen, headaches and sleep disturbances due to the blue light from the screens, which inhibits melatonin production and thus disrupts the sleep-wake rhythm. In addition, a lack of physical activity due to long periods of mobile phone use can lead to obesity and other health problems.

Recommendations for responsible handling

In view of the many opportunities and risks, it is crucial that children learn how to use smartphones responsibly. We have put together various recommendations.

Ensure age-appropriate use. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 18 months should not use screen media other than video chats. For children aged 18 to 24 months, high-quality digital content should be selected and viewed together with parents. Pre-school children (2 to 5 years) should not spend more than one hour a day in front of screens.

Parents should act as role models and consciously shape their own mobile phone use. Children learn by imitation, so it is important that parents themselves use digital media responsibly and set clear rules.

It is important to set clear rules for mobile phone use. These include fixed times when the mobile phone may be used and times when it is taboo, such as during meals or before bedtime. Time limits can help to prevent excessive use.

Parents should ensure that children have sufficient opportunities for alternative activities that are not linked to digital media. These include sporting activities, creative hobbies and social interactions in real life. These activities promote healthy development and provide a balance to the digital world.

An important aspect is safety when using the internet. Parents should educate their children about the dangers of the internet and teach them how to protect their privacy. This also includes the use of parental control software that restricts access to inappropriate content.

Note: (in German) informs parents about technical protection solutions for their child’s devices, services and apps.

Parents should be actively involved in their children’s digital world. This means choosing and trying out apps and games together, as well as talking about their use of social media and the content they consume. An open dialogue can help children feel safe and know that they can turn to their parents if they have problems.

Our conclusion

The use of mobile phones by children is a complex issue that brings with it both opportunities and risks. Smartphones can be a useful tool for communication, education and social interaction, but they also harbour dangers such as distraction, health problems and psychosocial stress. Responsible use of digital media therefore requires clear rules, parental guidance and the promotion of alternative activities.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of parents to pave the way for children to use smartphones in a healthy and balanced way. By acting as role models, setting clear boundaries and being open to discussion, they can help children to utilise the benefits of the digital world without neglecting its risks. In this way, mobile phone use becomes an enriching part of life that positively supports and promotes children’s development.


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