A German child psychology expert and adviser to the German government says children younger than 14 should not be allowed to use smartphones, citing the danger of exposing young people to sexually explicit images.
Julia von Weiler, who leads the German chapter of the group Innocence in Danger, a nonprofit organization that provides education on Internet use and works to prevent the sexual abuse of children online, framed the proposal as akin to other childhood restrictions on legal substances.
“Just as we protect children from alcohol or other drugs, we should also protect them from the risks of using smartphones at too early an age,” said von Weiler, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported Friday.
Von Weiler’s recommendation comes amid growing concerns among parents, child advocates and consumer groups over the increased use of digital devices and its effects on education, social skills and mental health. Technology companies are also responding to the issue. Apple and Google, whose software runs nearly all of the world’s smartphones, have both released tools for parents to better track and control children’s screen time. How much device time tech executives allow for their own children has also become a topic of public debate, suggesting that the people engineering the technology are most aware of its risks.
Other experts on issues of childhood abuse have cautioned against the kind of blanket bans on smartphones proposed by von Weiler. Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig, Germany’s independent commissioner for child sexual abuse issues, framed the recommendation as a quick fix to a problem in need of a more robust solution, according to Deutsche Welle.
“A law restricting the age for using smartphones would possibly be a quick and apparently simple solution,” Rörig said, but he added that such a ban would not address the fundamental problem of a lack of protection on the Web.
Other governments and researchers have focused on different, potentially damaging aspects of phone use, including behavioral development and education.
Von Weiler’s proposal follows recent legislation in France barring young students from taking their smartphones and tablets to school, or at least requiring them to keep the devices powered off while in class. The French officials who supported the rules characterized the restrictions as a way to prevent children from forming addictive habits and to protect the integrity of the classroom.
According to a recent study published by the American Psychological Association, smartphones and social media are altering young people’s reading habits, which may influence their critical thinking. American adolescents spend hours each day on their devices instead of reading magazines or books, according to an analysis of historical data on young people’s media consumption. Sixty percent of high school seniors said they read a book, magazine or newspaper every day in the 1970s, compared with just 16 percent of seniors in 2016.