Smartphones and Kids

Thinking of getting your student a smartphone this summer? The letter below (and PDF here) targeted to elementary school families highlights research and resources available to help parents navigate this decision in the context of their own family’s values and circumstances. Additional information relevant to students of all ages is available on the Newton Public Schools website, including suggested guidelines from Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

Letter Regarding Smartphones
June 7, 2018

Dear Parents and Legal Guardians of Elementary School Students,

Over the past few years, the use of smartphones has grown exponentially. At the same time, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest caution when providing children with their own mobile devices.

Every family has their own values and circumstances that shape their approach to cellphone ownership and use. Based on recent research and discussion around the effects of smartphone use on youth, Newton’s Health and Human Services department would like to provide some guidance and resources around smartphones and mobile devices for children. Please consider the following:

  • Delay cell phone introduction: Elementary school students are encouraged to focus on face to face relationship building and active engagement with learning and play. Additionally, mobile devices and the associated applications can become stressors when misused and/or overused, potentially leading to bullying, low self-esteem, privacy and safety issues or concerns. Therefore, we discourage the introduction of smartphones at this developmental stage. Every child and famil situation is unique and only you know what is best for your child. However, in general, we encourage the postponement of providing young children with mobile devices until at least middle school and we encourage consideration by Newton families of waiting until 8th grade or later for smartphones.
  • Start slow: Whenever you do decide to introduce a mobile device, consider a flip phone, “light” phone, or other device with limited features that is primarily used for phone calls and text messages. These are not web-enabled or equipped with apps, games, or social media.
  • Establish clear guidelines and use limits: Start the conversation about limits, including amount of use and time of day (i.e. limit or prohibit use at night for optimal sleep). Many families choose to create “contracts” with their children to clarify expectations.
  • Utilize parental controls and monitor use: There are many devices and apps that help control access to both the Internet and specific apps. Maintain access and know passwords to all accounts. You can find additional resources and guidance on the Newton Public Schools website here including these suggested guidelines from Newton-Wellesley Hospital (PDF). We look forward to an ongoing dialogue with you as we work to ensure our children learn to use technology in healthy and responsible ways.


Deborah Youngblood
Commissioner of Health and Human Services

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