Are you feeling the pressure to buy your child a smartphone?

Nearly half of UK parents feel pressured to buy a smartphone for their child earlier than they would like, new survey reveals 

A new survey conducted by UK environmental charity Global Action Plan reveals that nearly half (44 per cent) of UK parents with 10–13-year-olds feel pressure to buy a smartphone for their child earlier than they feel comfortable. This strain is felt even more strongly by younger parents with six in ten (63 per cent) of parents aged 18-34 feeling pressure to buy their child a smartphone sooner than they wanted. 

The survey highlights the impossible dilemma many mums and dads face, with 92 per cent of parents being concerned about their child owning their own smartphone, but at the same time, also worrying that their child would miss out socially (70 per cent) on entertainment (69 per cent) and education (49 per cent) if they did not own one.  

Parents have a wide range of concerns about their child owning a smartphone, from exposure to inappropriate content (57%) to excessive screen time (60%). Global Action Plan claims that targeted advertising exacerbates these problems and urges tech companies to make the online world safer for children by turning it off. The charity is focusing on smartphone use, as children in this age bracket predominantly use of the internet through this platform

Global Action Plan’s Stop Targeted Advertising to Kids campaign is calling on websites and apps popular with children to turn off targeted ‘behavioural’ advertising to under 18s, and the tracking that underpins it. 

Oliver Hayes, Policy and Campaigns Lead at Global Action Plan, said: “’Behavioural’ adverts – those that are tailored for individual users based on their browsing history, demographics, and other personal information – rely on massive amounts of personal data to micro-target users. These ads and users’ interactions with them generate yet more data, which is in turn used for more microtargeting. There is not a single online harm – from polarisation, disinformation, and the automated promotion of harmful content – that is not more worrisome because of microtargeting. Turning off behavioural advertising would see demand for tracking and microtargeting dry up, to the benefit of all internet users.” 

Global Action Plan is working to support parents grappling with this impossible dilemma of when to let their kids have smartphones. As part of its ‘Kids Not Consumers‘ network, the charity is keen to highlight the challenges parents face, as well as to pressure social media companies and tech platforms to end targeted online adverts to under 18s. 

Oliver Hayes, Policy and Campaigns Lead at Global Action Plan, continued: “Parents shouldn’t have to choose between their child missing out, or being pummelled with invasive ads promoting unattainable visions of beauty, wealth and status, with harmful consequences for their wellbeing and the planet. Advertising revenue is what drives the tech companies’ efforts to make smartphones appeal to young children. But exposing kids to unlimited ads – particularly targeted, ‘behavioural’ ads – embeds materialism at a young age that risks kids’ wellbeing and harms the planet. It is time for tech companies to stop putting parents in an impossible position and turn off invasive ads for all under 18s.” 

Mum of three, E. Phillips, from Wokingham, Berkshire highlighted how the pandemic has impacted her children’s relationship with their phones: “My children’s social lives revolve around their smartphones so not having one would impact them socially. Since the pandemic much of my children’s learning has moved online and their smartphones give them convenient access to this.” 

Mum Unni Henry, from Hayes, Kent, said: “There is no doubt that 2020 has increased peer pressure on my daughter. Over the lockdown many parents in my child’s class seem to have caved in to pester-power, giving their kids phones to ‘enable them to stay in touch with the friends’. Of course, the parents claimed that they would take the phones off them when they returned to school, but that is much easier said than done, and I don’t know of anyone who has managed to take it back. Children at this age are far too young to have a phone in my view. The pressures of social media likes and followers will come soon enough. It’s not good for their mental health, we should let kids be kids for as long as we can.” 

Billie Watsham, from Buckinghamshire says: “Our 13-year-old son is laughed at by his schoolmates on the bus – they say his iPhone is old and small and they call him a loser. This makes him feel anxious and embarrassed so I thought about getting him a new phone but I can’t justify the expense when his phone works perfectly.” 

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