The biggest dilemma for parents right now is whether to trust their children with a phone. As someone who grew up in a household with a landline and one who got exposed to mobile phones in his teenage, the adoption of mobile devices among children of all age groups seems baffling. My four-year-old niece is such a pro that she can easily navigate from an Android phone to an iPhone without blinking an eye. That transition makes me question the learning curve that I have written about couple of times.
Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the two stalwarts of Silicon Valley, are believed to have imposed strict screen time, with their own kids. In 2007, Gates reportedly implemented a cap on screen time when his daughter developed attachment to a video game. Jobs, on the other hand, confirmed that he prohibited his kids from using iPad, also called the large-screen iPod. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home,” Jobs told New York Times in an interview in 2011. A three-year-old report showed that the average age for a child getting their first smartphone is now 10 years and that tablet use has surged from 26 percent from 55 percent.
These statistics can look alarming and at times, it does seem like the tech companies are not doing enough. There are just too many school and college kids out there playing PUBG Mobile on their parents’ smartphone. Dismissing any form of technology as harmful, can have adverse effect on the development of the society. The single major reason for equipping kids with mobile phones has been security. With smartphone makers and software developers adding new tools to limit addiction and companies building specialized devices, the question remains the same – should you trust your kid with a phone? In order to find out, I gave my niece a device named Easyfone Star, and here is what I discovered.
Easyfone is pitching the Star as India’s first phone designed especially for kids. When I first took it home, there was confusion as to whether it was meant for kids or seniors. The design of the phone reminded me of Nokia‘s feature phones from late 2000s, and it comes in five different colors – green, pink, blue, red, and white. Our test device came in blue color, and it is tiny in comparison to a standard smartphone. At the front, it has a small square display followed by four-way navigation key, buttons to accept or cancel calls. However, the unique thing is that it does not have a number pad and instead, there are four buttons called M1, M2, M3 and M4. When customers buy the phone online, they get an option to upload pictures of four contacts that would act as speed dial on the phone.
Easyfone says there is no keypad and it means children won’t be able to talk to strangers. While most devices offer parental controls via software, the Easyfone Star has parental control at the hardware level. At the right side, there is a button to activate the flash light while on the left side, there is the volume rocker and a button to lock the device. Turning the device reveals the dedicated SOS button and the red button is so big that it is hard to miss. This kid-centric phone is clearly designed with security and purpose of awareness in mind.
It also comes with GPS so as a parent, you can get your child’s location whenever you want. When I handed the Easyfone Star to my niece, it took her just five minutes to set it aside and go back to the iPhone, on which she was watching YouTube Kids. But she took to the device eventually, using it less as the communication device and more as safety tool. I could pinpoint her location to her play school using the onboard GPS. Easyfone says there is even an option to get child’s location on demand or at a predetermined time or when the SOS button is triggered. I could not test those, but the GPS did accurately pinpoint location through Easyfone website, thus proving its security credentials.
If you use Apple’s Screen Time on iPhone or Google’s Digital Wellbeing on a Pixel phone, you can limit the screen time, and there is also an option to override them. In the case of Easyfone Star though, the settings are controlled only by the parent and the child has no way to change them. Also, these settings can be changed only through the website and not from the device. There is also a discreet listening feature which allows parents to see what’s happening in their child’s surrounding but I did not try that feature. I could not get myself to eavesdrop on my kid, but the feature can be useful in number of circumstances. The Easyfone Star has been with us for more than two months now and I realized that it is not the device that you adopt, but rather adapt over time. My niece may not have used it as extensively as she does the Alexa speaker in our living room, but it was there in here backpack as a way to be aware of her location and in the case of an older kid, it could be used to make calls too.
Does it work?
The Easyfone Star, which costs Rs 4,990, delivers on its primary use case. With a SIM inserted, it can be handily used to call four numbers set as primary contacts along with their photos. It is a great tool for emergencies with its dedicated SOS button and the GPS can be used to pinpoint a child’s location, in case of emergency. Since it is a feature phone, it lasts longer than a smartphone, but falls short of matching the marathon-grade battery of feature phones like Nokia 1100. There are other functions such as in case the phone is lost or stolen, the company can identify those using it.
Parents can even set “Do not disturb” time to prevent their kids from being disturbed during study time. One nifty feature is called “i am fine” updates, which can be configured by parents and sent by the kid at predefined times every day by pressing one button. Easyfone has designed the device from the ground up as a security tool more than communication tool and it delivers on that promise.
Watch: Pachinko Parlors of Japan
Should you trust your kid with a phone?
Psychologists around the world are split on this question. While some say that controlled usage is not harmful, some vehemently encourage to not offer any screen time to their kids. Dr Jyoti Kapoor Madan, a psychologist based out of New Delhi, told BGR India that she does not usually recommend any kind of screen time to kids under 10 years of age. She says individuals who cannot control their impulses should not be allowed to learn a gadget or things that might be addictive.
“I would not recommend watching even YouTube videos on phone for children as young as eight years,” she said. “Beyond that, using smartphones or any form of technology for gaming, information and education is acceptable within a time frame of maximum one hour per day.”
The problem right now is that there is no study that conclusively tells us what kind of exposure is right for kids. Dr Madan told me that screen time under 30 minutes would be a good incorporation and encouraging kids to engage in non-sedentary activities would be beneficial. In the case of Easyfone Star, the real worry isn’t about screen time, but one that has to do with security. If you consider safety as the biggest concern for your kid, then this tiny feature phone adds new dimension to keep track of your kid when they are away. The bottom-line is to keep children away from mobile devices as much as possible but I can say, that it is never going to be easy.