Dr Leslie Haddon Children’s experience of phones: for better or for worse.

To kick start the LTI NetworkED seminar series for 2015 Dr Leslie Haddon will be reporting on the findings from the Net Children Go Mobile project on children’s use of smartphones and tablets.  The seminar will take place on Wednesday 28 January 2015 at 3pm in R01.

NetworkED seminars are free to attend but places are limited so will need to be reserved via the staff training and development system or by emailing imt.admin@lse.ac.uk.  All our talks are live streamed and recorded for those who can’t make it and a link to the live stream will be available on the blog shortly.

Ahead of his talk we asked Leslie some questions about the impact of mobile technology on children.

Q: Some argue that smartphones change our experience of the online world because the internet is now ‘always at hand’. Are children also finding this?

While mobile devices, especially tablets and smartphones, are clearly becoming more prevalent among children, that particular claim as well as the one that they can use the devices ‘anytime, anywhere’ is an overstatement, and definitely not so true of younger children. The findings from the Net Children Go Mobile project highlight the fact that children’s use of such devices, even more so than adults, is subject to many social constraints. As dependents there are often limits on how much children and young people can spend on smartphones, be that in terms of paying for downloaded apps or the running costs if their ISP package has limits. In addition, some parents worry about children having too much screen time, some feel that time using the smartphone takes time away from the family, or some simply feel that the smartphone is distracting children from their homework – which it sometimes does. So parents often ration the use of smartphones, for instance, only allowing it after homework has been completed, of ban the use of the device at certain times, for example, at dinner times or after bedtime.

Q: Did the location of access have a significant effect on children’s use of smartphones?

Yes, this was yet another constraint. In the UK many junior schools and for some years in secondary schools smartphones are banned. In this respect there is cultural variation with far less regulation of smartphones in Danish schools. In fact, in many schools Danish children can also use them in conjunction with the school Wi-Fi. Basically, it seems they are seen more negatively, as disruptive or anti-social, in British schools, having little educational merit and that is also a perception in some other countries. At least the Danish case shows that one does not automatically have to take that stance.   The other thing to add about location is that as very expensive items one of the key risks for parents and teachers is that the smartphone might be stolen. Hence there is pressure on children not to use these phones in certain public spaces, like when on the way home from school. Small wonder that the main location in which children use smartphone is actually in the home, also making use of the free Wi-Fi there, rather than when they are on the move.

Q: Did the Net Children Go Mobile project find that smartphones changed children’s behaviour in any way?

For better or for worse these devices have the power to enhance experiences. This can be true for the risks we discussed with them in interviews but interestingly one of the key areas commented on in some depth by children was in relation to communication. They noted how It was now far easier to communicate, some felt that it has enabled them to be more sociable with their peers, and there was now a greater sense of always having someone one could talk to because of the greater array of (often ‘free’) channels at their disposal. But the downside of this is in many respects the same as for adults – for many older children especially there is far more incoming communications, which many felt obliged to check, but which many also felt were irrelevant. Even the children sometimes admitted that this overload could be a distraction and it could also, in children’s eyes, be too much of a temptation. So even when they are generally positive about smartphones, as most children are, some ration themselves because of this – they put the phone aside at time or else decide not to engage in certain online options. And they sometimes acknowledge that, especially because it’s easy to respond quickly, there is the danger of sending messages that are interpreted in the wrong way. So while we may ask what is specific to and an issue for children, in many respects it is the more banal communication dilemmas, sometimes similar to those faced by adults, that attract their attention, that provoke comment, more than the risk agenda.


You can watch the recording of Dr Leslie Haddon on this blog and on our Youtube channel.