Parents have long been aware of the challenges that their middle schoolers and high schoolers face once they become cell phone owners. Limiting screen time, making sure they're using social media respectfully and responsibly and ensuring they're only visiting age appropriate sites are all issues parents face with regards to their children and cell phone usage.
Now that it's 2018 it seems that children are getting cell phones younger and younger, which means that kids in elementary school now have access to the world wide web at their fingertips on a daily basis. Despite many parents giving their children a phone at such a young age often citing safety reasons as well as the peace of mind of being able to contact your child at all times, studies are showing that kids this young with cellphones are more likely to become bullies or be bullied.
In a study titled, "Grade School Students Who Own Cell Phones are More Likely to be Cyberbullied," data on 4,584 students in grades 3, 4 and 5 between 2014 and 2016 was studied and found that those who owned a cell phone were more likely to report instances of cyberbullying. The study found that those in the 3rd and 4th grade were especially more likely to report.
“Parents often cite the benefits of giving their child a cell phone, but our research suggests that giving young children these devices may have unforeseen risks as well,” Elizabeth K. Englander, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Mass, noted in the study.
Of the students involved in the study, almost 50% of them across the three grades surveyed owned a cell phone. And while those in the 3rd and 4th grade who owned cell phones were the most likely to report incidents of bullying, students who owned cell phones in all three grades were more likely to admit to also being a cyberbully themselves.
The study cites increased exposure and access to a never ending list of social media sites as well as the opportunity to text and message peers as some of the main reasons for the increase in cyberbullying, both as a victim and offender. "Continuous access to social media and texting increases online interactions, provides more opportunities to engage both positively and negatively with peers, and increases the chance of an impulsive response to peers’ postings and messages."
While providing a cell phone to your younger children provides parents with a means to contact them at all times, and allows them to contact a parent or community member if there was an emergency, Englander does suggest that parents be aware of the dangers that cell phone ownership can present to children at such a young age.
“At the very least, parents can engage in discussions and education with their child about the responsibilities inherent in owning a mobile device, and the general rules for communicating in the social sphere,” the doctor stated.