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Smartphones for Children. Coming Soon.

By Travis J. Froehlich, Associate Vice President, Corporate Communications

December 13, 2011

Whether we like it or not, the holidays are upon us. And if you’re like me, you still have some shopping to do. I have three nephews, and every year it seems to be more of a challenge to find the right gift for each of them. I need to find presents that are age appropriate, affordable, fun, and, most importantly, something that reminds them that I really am the coolest uncle ever.

Historically, I’ve found electronic gadgets to be a safe bet when it comes to great presents for the boys. From small computers for kids to music and DVD players, these gifts always go over well. But it got me thinking about children and smartphones or tablets. When is it appropriate for children to have access to these types of devices?

My first thought was that it’s just not appropriate for children to have smartphones. But then I did a little digging and was surprised by what I found. According to an article on, almost 20% of children aged 5 to 7 use a cell phone, with even younger children getting in on the act every day. Of course, the children do not own the phones, but rather use their parents’ devices. The article referred to this as the pass-back effect, where parents pass their own devices to their child—much like handing them their keys to play with to alleviate boredom. According to an article posted to, Nielsen data as recent as this past May “indicates that almost a third of the apps on smartphones owned by parents who allow their children to install apps, were downloaded by their children.” And as the adoption of smartphones continues to grow, it’s only natural that the number of children using them will also continue to grow. So, clearly children are on these devices, but what are they downloading and is there an opportunity for mHealth?

From the kids’ perspective it’s all about games. But from a parent’s perspective—and according to child development experts—it’s all about advancing mobile (anytime) learning and, like mHealth, increasing access. There are over 3,400 educational apps for children available through the iTunes store alone. There are also a number of opportunities to gear mHealth for children.

One such opportunity was discussed by an Obesity, Diet, and Physical Activity panel at the recent mHealth Summit in Washington, D.C. According to, the idea discussed was to provide real-life tools to encourage healthy living when children are not directly in front of a doctor. Monitoring 37 patients ages 6 – 17 with cardiometabolic risk factors, data was collected via wearable GPS, accelerometer, and heart-rate-monitor sensors over a period of 7 days. The data was then used to identify opportunities for physical activity within each child’s general living area. Imagine the potential health benefits for children that mobile access to preventative apps could have, not to mention the impact on our healthcare system. Simply amazing.

Maybe letting the kindergarten set play with smartphones isn’t such a bad idea, as long as we also introduce to them to some of the other (healthier) ways to use technology. Even so, I won’t be buying my nephews their own phones or tablets just yet— I’ll leave that decision to my sister and her husband. But the next time I see my nephews, I’ll be sure to have my tablet charged and ready—I still need cool uncle status!