“Mommy, my friend Sarah has a cell phone! When do I get one?”
Kids these days are asking for cell phones at younger and younger ages — but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready for one.
Are you not sure whether your child is old enough for their own phone? Don’t worry - you’re not alone. Plenty of parents are wondering whether or not their kids are ready for a phone.
Let’s take a look at both the advantages and drawbacks of giving your child a phone.
Pros of Giving Your Child a Phone
Staying in touch
Most kids are ridiculously busy. Between school, friends, sports, and other extracurricular activities, they can spend entire days away from home.
It’s nice to know they’re just a phone call away. If their plans change, if they need a ride home, or if they want to stay at Jimmy’s an extra hour, having their own phone makes it super easy for them to keep you informed about where they are and what they’re up to. It also makes it easier for you to remind them if they’re due home or they’ve outrun their curfew.
In case of emergency
A cell phone can also provide your child (and you!) with an added sense of security should anything go wrong. If your child is frequently away from home, home alone, has a medical condition, or if you simply like to know they have a lifeline should the unexpected occur, a cell phone can give you peace of mind.
Keeping track of their whereabouts
While the “Big Brother” aspect of GPS tracking can seem a little creepy, the ability to locate any phone, anywhere, can be a great tool for parents who want to keep tabs on their child.
You can add a tracking feature to your child’s phone by downloading an app or installing real-time location software. It’s reassuring to know that you can find your child’s phone if she’s ever lost, if she wanders away from home, or if she’s running late and you can’t get ahold of her chaperone.
Of course, you as a parent don’t want to get your child a cell phone simply because “everyone else has one.” But there’s a difference between giving into peer pressure and allowing your child to fit in with the current culture (within reason).
Cons of Giving Your Child a Phone
That said, let’s take a look at some of the drawbacks of giving your child a cell phone.
Additional data usage from surfing the Internet, making “in-app” purchases (did they realize you’re being charged for that app upgrade they clicked “yes” to?)
If you don’t set data limits on your child’s cell phone plan (and make sure they observe these!), you can find yourself paying dearly in added fees and overages.
Online privacy is a concern for anyone. But when your child has the ability to share their personal information with the world at the click of a button, things can get especially scary.
As an adult, you can exercise judgment and discretion over what type of personal information you reveal to the world. You’re worried about your children, though, who don’t necessarily have the wisdom that comes with age.
Plenty of adults get lost in their phones (think: the guy at dinner who keeps checking his iPhone under the table).
Kids can easily fall down the rabbit hole of texting, social media, mobile games and apps, music and TV. Children should be exploring the big, wide world and learning how to interact with others. Spending too much time with their faces glued to a screen can cause them to miss out on a lot.
The distraction of a cell phone (and all its texting, games, and more) takes up time that should be spent doing homework, playing with friends and bonding with the family. In addition, being constantly “plugged in” can also affect your child’s concentration and expose them to images of violence or other antisocial media images.
Can you child make it through a full day without ruining their clothes? Is your child constantly leaving their belongings behind at friends’ houses?
If so, they’re probably not mature enough to handle a cell phone. Some kids are simply not mature enough to keep a pricey digital device in one piece.
Owning a phone is both a privilege and a responsibility. Make sure your child is up to the task.
The jury is still out when it comes to exactly what health threats (if any) cell phones pose to children.
The radio wave signals that phones emit have been linked to everything from brain tumors to hearing problems, but so far the studies that have been conducted are shaky at best, and many are flat-out contradictory.
In lieu of any conclusive evidence, your best bet to avoid any potential health risks is to limit the amount of time your child spends their phone and to encourage the use of a hands-free headset or speakerphone to keep the devices at a safe distance.
Bullying is an unfortunate part of growing up. But thanks to the Internet, it’s easier than ever for bullies to reach your child 24/7, wherever they are.
If your child is sensitive or has a problem with school bullies, you’ll want to think twice about putting a device in their pocket. It may only add to the problem. Your child will be able to read nasty messages that bullies post about him on Facebook, or rumors that girls spread about her on Twitter.
Yes, bullies can post these messages regardless of whether or not your child has a cell phone. But if the bullies don’t receive reinforcement (in the form of a reaction) because your child hasn’t noticed, they may leave your child alone.
(And even if the bullies don’t leave your child alone, she’ll still benefit from the fact that she’s unaware of the crude messages. In this case, ignorance is bliss.)
Driving and texting
This last point is aimed at teenagers, rather than young children, but it’s important enough that it merits mention:
If your teen is old enough to have a driving permit or license, it’s critical that they understand the dangers of driving and texting.
Many teens have (thankfully) gotten the message about drinking and driving. But texting while behind the wheel is (unfortunately) an all-too common occurrence, and the consequences can be every bit as deadly.
Make sure your teen knows that they should let any texts and emails remain unanswered until they’ve arrived at their destination. (And make sure that you’re setting a good example by doing the same.)
No matter how good they think they are at multitasking, no text or call is so important it’s worth risking their life (or the lives of their passengers).
Should I Give My Child a Phone?
In general, teens and pre-teens are probably old enough to have their own phone, so long as you establish clear rules and guidelines on how they use it. Your eight-year-old, most likely, isn’t quite there yet.
But that’s not a clear-cut rule. As they say, “age is just a number.” Don’t focus on whether your child is 8 or 10 or 12. Their age isn’t the most relevant metric.
Instead, focus on how mature and responsible your child acts, and how well you can trust them to handle a cell phone.
Sure, you want to stay in touch with your child. You want to give her a way to reach you in an emergency. But between games, cyberbullying and in-app purchases (not to mention the risk of her just dropping or losing the device), you’re probably better waiting until she’s in middle school.
Instead of giving her a phone, use a location device like Amber Alert GPS to stay connected with your child. You can view her whereabouts and communicate with her at the touch of a button.
How to Handle (Some) Cell Phone Concerns:
If you do give your child a cell phone, outline the importance of not sharing personal details with strangers online. Define the scope of “personal,” from their address to their name to the school they attend.
Reiterate that they shouldn’t talk with anyone they don’t know “in real life,” whether it’s via voice, text or on message boards and forums.
Make sure your child is aware of the cap on monthly data usage, and keep an eye on this by logging into your mobile plan’s website and monitoring how much time and/or how many minutes have already been used.
If data and minutes are getting gobbled too quickly, warn your child. Institute a rule that states that if they go over their allotted usage, they’ve lost cell phone privileges for the rest of the month.
Also make sure they’re clear on the fact that game-related purchases, apps and ring tones are not free, and if they choose to download any, it will come straight out of their allowance.
Talk to your child about bullying and tell him to report any incidents of bullying to either you or the nearest adult chaperone or guardian.
On the flip side, you also want to counsel your child about not behaving in a way that could come across as bullying. Tone and context are hard to relay online, and kids especially can have trouble realizing that the things they’re sending out could hurt someone’s feelings.
Make sure they know that saying something online is just as bad as saying it directly to someone’s face, and that they should never say (or type) anything they wouldn’t want someone to say (or type) about them.
What if Your Child Isn’t Ready for a Phone?
If you don’t feel right about the idea of your child having a cell phone, but you’re tempted to give in because he’s been hounding you for months and you’re sick of hearing about it, you’re likely caving to the pressure of the crowd.
If, however, your child is responsible, mature and you don’t have a solid reason for denying them a phone, except for the fact that you didn’t have a phone at their age, it may be time to re-examine your stance.
The fact of the matter is that times have changed. What was “right” for your generation isn’t necessarily “best” for your child’s generation. More than 80 percent of teens and more than half of preteens now have their own phone.
Not allowing your child to have a cell phone for a valid reason is one thing; saying no “because I said so” or “because I didn’t have one at your age” is another matter.
If you’re not comfortable allowing your child to have a phone yet, though, don’t worry: You can use a smart locator device like Amber Alert GPS to stay connected. You’ll enjoy the best of both worlds — your child will have more safety and protection, and you won’t need to worry about your child getting cyber-bullied on her phone, texting with strangers, or racking up extra minutes.