Is it smart to own a smartphone?

Study shows that cellphone ownership is becoming a big part of life for students between Grades 6 and 9
Smartphone students It's becoming more and more common for students to have their own smartphones. (© Syda Productions |

Do you have a phone?

Not one that you borrow to play games while waiting at the doctor's office or in a restaurant before food arrives. We mean your own smartphone. You have your own number that your parents use to contact you. Not to mention a number that your friends use to contact you if they have their own phones, too.

As students like you head back to school for another year, smartphone ownership just keeps becoming more and more common. And it increases dramatically as one gets older. According to a 2015 study, about a quarter of Canadian students in Grades 4 and 5 have their own phone—that's not too many. But that becomes 38% by Grade 6, and just over half the class in Grade 7 (52%). By Grade 9, a student without a phone is hard to find—83% have one.

Welcome to the modern age

On the surface, this shouldn't be surprising. These days, getting your own cellphone is just as much a rite of passage of growing up as getting a driver's licence (in fact, it's probably way more of a rite of passage now). Technology like this is a part of today's world. And social networking—through texting and apps like Facebook and Snapchat—helps us stay in touch and share things that matter to us.

But is it a good idea?

Slowing down the brain

Okay, brace yourself, because we're sure you've heard this one before: you're still growing. In particular, your brain and its cognitive skills (methods of thinking, reading, paying attention, and more) are still developing. And they keep developing all throughout your teenage years. Why is this so important?

Because no one really knows what effect smartphones and tablets have on the development of our cognitive skills. The technology is still too new. But early studies are showing that the online world can stunt (or slow) the development of these skills, as well as affecting sleeping and eating habits. This is especially an issue if the devices are allowed in school. The biggest concern is that watching YouTube and keeping track of the online lives of friends pulls much-needed brain space away from processing what is being learned in class.

Friends... and bullies

Another reason why many parents wait to give their child a smartphone is a fear of cyberbullying. When students in Grades 4 to 7 are using phones, a majority of the usage is still for activities like playing games and watching YouTube. But by Grade 8 and up, more and more of that time is spent interacting on social media. That can be really fun but it also opens up the world of cyberbullying. Around a third of students in Grades 8 and 9 are either mean to others or get bullied themselves online.

But also true? Most of the students bullied receive support from friends and their parents. Many of them also discuss the problem face-to-face with the fellow student, or even just ignore it completely. The bottom line? "Real world" support systems—friends, family, conversation—are all important to keeping a balance in life.

It will happen one day

Look at it this way. If you asked an adult to give up their phone right now, they'd say no way! And it's not just because having a smartphone is fun. It's just a fact that it's how our society connects and exchanges information now. None of this is necessarily bad. But even these adults benefit from leaving the phones behind and doing things in the real world. As a young person with a still-full-of-unknown-potential big brain, the same thing is even more true for you.

So do you own a smartphone? If you do, cool. Just make sure to put it down often and allow yourself the chance to absorb everything around you.

And if you don't, don't worry. You'll get one eventually. Now who wants to play catch?

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