The digital world is rapidly evolving, and the age at which children are introduced to computers, tablets, and phones is decreasing each year. It seems that children even have phones and tablets of their own at a young age. So how do you know if YOUR child is old enough to have a cell phone? While this obviously varies on a case by case and situational basis- here are some tips I found.
When kids reach a certain age, they begin to see that not having a cell phone effecting their social life negatively. They HAVE to get a phone of their own. They can’t communicate with all of their friends without it. As a parent, you want your kid to be happy. If your child is playing a sport or enrolled in other extracurricular activities you may even want them to have one. It would be comforting and convenient for you to be able to reach them when they are away from you. Here are some risks you should think twice about before you hand them a phone of their own:
- Cost- Should you spend upwards of $200 on a device that could be lost or broken?
- Runaway Data Charges- kids can rack up hundreds of dollars worth of data if they don’t understand what they are doing on apps or other games.
- Crossing the Line- what if your child sends or receives something inappropriate?
- Getting Hurt- I can say all I need to say about this in one word. Cyberbullying.
So with all these risks to address, how can you possible hand your innocent little baby something that has so much potential for bad?
Age is just a number
Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist and anxiety expert at the Child Mind Institute, says he is asked this question often by parents with kids between 10 and 12.
“I tell parents that it’s not so much about a particular age as it is about a kid’s social awareness and understanding of what the technology means,” Dr. Bubrick explains. “You could have a really immature 15-year-old who’s acting out on the phone, but you give it to him because he’s 15, whereas a really socially mature 12-year-old could handle it better.”
Dr. Bubrick recommends considering these issues:
- How often does your child lose things, especially expensive things? If you tell her something is extra important, does she take special care of it, or leave it on the bus after a few days?
- How well does your child handle money? Will she be in the middle of a game and impulsively buy more lives without considering their cost?
- Consider how easily your kid picks up on social cues. If she’s slow to catch on, this deficit could be aggravated in texting and posting on social media. Dr. Bubrick cites an example of a child repeatedly messaging her friends with the word “hey” and not understanding why no one responds.
- How savvy is your child about technology? Does she truly understand that future college admissions staff, employers, and colleagues could conceivably see anything she posts now?
- How well does your child do with limits to screen time? If he is constantly glued to the computer or game console, he will probably have difficulty putting down the phone as well.
It doesn’t have to be a SmartPhone
If you don’t feel that your child is quite ready to be trusted with a smart phone, one option is to provide him with a phone that allows for calling and texting but not much else. One such device is Sprint’s “WeGo,” a child-friendly phone for 5- to 12-year-olds that features GPS tracking and allows you to program specific incoming and outgoing numbers. It includes a string that can be pulled to set off a panic alarm.
Ready to get the ball rolling?
If you ARE ready to give your child their own fully-functioning phone, make sure you set clear guidelines and expectations for you child. Here are some examples of what to put on your child’s “cell phone contract”.
- Establish that you are to know the password to the child’s phone, and that you have the right to take it away if you’re not satisfied that he’s using it wisely.
- Set limits on both general screen time and phone time. Dr. Bubrick urges this rule especially strongly for kids who already have difficulty breaking away from a screen.
- Agree on limits to how much money is available to cover the data plan and any game or app expenses.
- Determine what the consequences will be if the phone is lost or broken. Will it be replaced? And, if so, who will pay for it?
- Specify times of the day when using the phone is not allowed, such as late at night or during family activities. “No sleeping with your phone,” Catherine Steiner-Adair suggests in her book The Big Disconnect. “The phone stays off during homework and family meals.”
- Text and phone are not to be used for important or emotional conversations–those must still take place face-to-face. Tell your kids, urges Dr. Steiner-Adair, that the phone should not be used to hide or escape from uncomfortable situations.
- Monitor the social media sites that your kids use, and make them aware that you are doing it. “Kids should act as if their parents are reading almost everything they post,” explains Dr. Anderson. And if that’s not enough of a deterrent to overshare or act impulsively, explain that they shouldn’t post anything they wouldn’t be comfortable having their grandparents read.
Children will have to get phones and other electronics eventually. Don’t expect them to be perfect about keeping the rules now, but do your best as a parent to keep your children safe from the dangers of being online.
“You’re training your kids to make good decisions over time,” explains Dr. Bubrick, “so that eventually, when they leave you, you can trust that they will make those good decisions on their own.”
*information pulled from the Child Mind Institute
Brittany was born and raised in Alabama. She is a Wife and Mama of two sweet babies- her son John is two years old and her daughter Annie is ten months old. She has her degree in Home and Family Studies with an emphasis on Child Development from BYU.