Phones and Children

Mobile phones and devices are embedded into the daily lives of us all, including children because of the ease of use, portability, breadth of content and integration into a multitude of daily functions. The research regarding the adverse impact of devices on the mental health of children is increasing but still developing and still have a long way to go.

With the normalisation of device use, we have to be careful that we aren’t disregarding our instincts regarding device use in our children. Devices can be toxic for child mental health for a number of reasons.


It can prevent them from processing their emotions. When children are distracted by devices, they aren’t present in the world around them. This may result in them not learning from their environment and it may also result in them not processing emotions, especially those that they find difficult. When emotions are not processed in childhood, it can have an adverse effect on their mental health and may manifest as mental health problems in adolescence and adulthood.


If children become accustomed to using devices to manage and regulate their emotions, they may struggle to regulate their emotions in adolescence and adulthood. Emotional regulation is essential for psychological stability and therefore teaching children how to regulate their emotions and equipping them with healthy coping strategies, rather than reaching for a device to avoid dealing with their emotions, is important for their psychological development. Children start learning to regulate their emotions as babies.


When children spend most of their life interacting online, they may be missing out on learning valuable and essential interpersonal skills which are required for success in relationships, occupation and socially as adults. Relationships are complex to navigate and without the essential skills of conflict resolution, tolerance, resilience, forgiveness and vulnerability, it can make managing relationships a challenge. We know that the key to a long and happy life is the depth and stability of the relationships that we have around us and therefore developing these interpersonal skills in childhood is essential for life.


Children can only cope with so much information at a time. When they are young, they are still trying to understand their environment, establish right from wrong, work the world out, and that is just the elements of the world that we choose introduce them to. When we allow children to have freedom online, they are presented with a whole array of content. The worst case is predatory, malevolent, and manipulative content which can be used to coerce and groom children into certain ways of thinking, behaving and potentially dangerous ideologies. Even the best case scenario is still one that requires consideration. The online world has so much information, so many opinions and so much unregulated content that children become overwhelmed, it can be hard for children to decipher what is appropriate and what isn’t, because they don’t yet know this themselves. When children aren’t yet aware of the subtleties of manipulation, they can easily be drawn in.


Algorithms are designed to exploit interests. Therefore, if a child is curious about something online, when they search it once, they are then bombarded by content which the system thinks will appeal to them. Before we know it, what started as a seed of thought can soon be nourished into fully formed ideas, attitudes and behaviours regarding a certain topic because of how content is pushed through to the user.


The online world without boundaries and restrictions isn’t a safe place for a child to be. When they are old enough to know what feels appropriate and acceptable, they may be able to take steps to keep themselves safe but when they are too young to understand the exploitative nature of algorithms and social media, they can be swept away by it.

Main Risks:

  • Ability to be present in their environment is affected
  • Children may not be processing their emotions in a healthy way
  • Interpersonal skills may be affected
  • Children are exposed to predatory, grooming and manipulative behaviours of others online world.
  • Children are at the mercy of algorithms which can exploit their curiosities.
  • The online world is boundaryless. We wouldn’t let our children run off into the world without a responsible adult present.

How to manage these risks:

  • We can’t remove devices, this would not help the situation as they will not learn how to manage the online world.
  • Teach them about the risks of being online. If you don’t know, educate yourself and only allow your child to access to certain platforms when you feel informed.
  • Learn and play with them. Watch what they are doing and help them to learn and recognise when something seems appropriate or doesn’t.
  • Teach children how to manage life online so they know what to do if something doesn’t feel right.
  • Create a safe and open environment for your children to talk to you about events online, this gives you the opportunity to spot any issues which might need addressing.
  • Set limits and boundaries on their use of devices. For example, it might be that they are only allowed a device at a certain time of the day for a specific period of time. You may suggest that they only use the devices in the same room as you. These boundaries will be different depending on the age of the child.