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Parents In Developing Nations Are Also Worried About Kids and Mobile Technologies

By Cait Etherington
March 16, 2019

Worrying about children spending too much time online may sound like a first-world problem, but a new Pew Research Center study suggests it is now a universal problem. In fact, parents in developing countries are increasingly just as worried about the negative effects of digital technologies as their first-world counterparts. But if screen time is a major concern for many parents in developing nations, in many developing and emerging economies, parents are more concerned about the types of content their children may encounter online.

Use of Mobile Devices Is On the Rise Worldwide

The Pew Research Center’s new study sought to measure how many people in emerging and developing economies now have access to mobile devices and to further probe their attitudes about mobile technologies. The survey included data from people living in 11 nations worldwide across four global regions: Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia; South Africa and Kenya; India, Vietnam and the Philippines; and Tunisia, Jordan, and Lebanon.

The study’s most notable finding is that the majority of people living in emerging and developing economies now own a mobile phone of some kind. Moreover, as stated in the Pew Research Center’s summary of the study, even in these contexts, “mobile phones are not simply basic devices with little more than voice and texting capacity: A median of 53% across these nations now have access to a smartphone capable of accessing the internet and running apps.” In addition, the study found that social media platforms are popular across the nations surveyed, but WhatsApp and Facebook are by far the most popular platforms.

But just as mobile devices have been found to have both positive and negatives impacts to people living in highly developed countries, in developing and emerging economies, many people are concerned about the potentially negative impacts mobile technologies may have on children.

Parents Worry Mobile Technologies May Negatively Impact Children

Most adults surveyed by the Pew Research Center do believe that the arrival of mobile technologies in their countries have brought at least some benefits. The vast majority of those surveyed agree that their mobile phone has helped them stay in touch with people who live far away. Moreover, in most countries (Jordan and Lebanon are exceptions) more people say mobile phones have had a good than a bad influence on society. But when asked about the impact of mobile technologies on children, the data is far less optimistic. In fact, the study found widespread concerns about the impact of mobile technologies on children, and these concerns appear to cut across all 11 nations surveyed.

To begin, approximately 79% of adults in the countries surveyed believe that people should be very concerned about children being exposed to harmful or immoral content when using mobile phones. As stated in the Pew Research Center’s summary published in early March, “More broadly, a median of 54% say the increasing use of the internet has had a bad influence on children in their country, and a median of 63% say the same about mobile phones.” As a result, many parents admit they now spend considerable time monitoring their children’s online activities. A median of 50%, for example, say they monitor what their children do on their mobile devices.

However, exposure to immoral content wasn’t the only concern expressed by the parents surveyed in the Pew Research Center study. In addition, a median of 52% of parents whose children have mobile phones has attempted to limit the amount of time their children spend using their phones. This suggests that first-world parents’ concerns about excess screen time are now shared by parents around the world, even if these concerns are not their most pressing worry about the impact of mobile technologies on children.

To read the full report, visit the Pew Research Center website.

Photo by Trevor Cole on Unsplash.