When should I give my child a cell phone?

teenswithsmartphonesIf you have a child who does not yet have a phone, odds are it’s on their wish list. If your child is in middle or high school, he or she probably seems relentless in their pursuit to own a phone. There is no denying that cell phones are a part of our daily lives and it is imperative that we teach our children how to use them appropriately. So, with the holiday season upon us, you may be wondering if it is the right time to give your child a cell phone. There are no clear-cut guidelines to giving your child a phone, it is really dependent on your child’s level of maturity, sense of responsibility, social implications and safety concerns.

The right time to give your child a phone is different for every parent/child and not an easy decision to make. Here are a few things to consider before you hand over a mobile device.

Phones and education

There is little doubt that phones are affecting education, and not in a good way. Several studies have shown that grades suffer when kids who are allowed to use smartphones in school, particularly in students who’s grades were already suffering. Some schools have imposed school-wide bans on smartphones, however the topic is heavily controversial between parents who have safety concerns and administrators who recognize the distraction and educational implications.

Not all phones are created equal

Many people use the words cell phones and smartphones interchangeably, but believe it or not you can still buy feature phones that don’t have the advanced functionality of a smartphone and basic phones with the sole purpose of making phone calls. Giving your child a phone means that you are putting a powerful communication and production tool right in the palm of their hands. Not all kids are prepared to handle the responsibility of operating a smartphone right out of the gate.

Think about the capabilities of smartphones, kids can create videos, send pictures, text, access social media, download just about anything you can imagine, broadcast their location and activities, and install an endless variety of applications.

Feature phones can provide a way to ease kids into the world of mobile devices without providing full access to the mobile world. Beware that there is a wide gamut of “features” available these days and some phones come very close to crossing the line into smartphone territory. Be sure to do your research and consider how much you want your child’s phone to do.

If you would like to be able to communicate with your child more easily, but don’t think they are ready to handle online interactions on their own, a basic phone might be the right option. Basic phones don’t have all the bells and whistles, like apps and GPS capabilities. Additionally, you can further restrict your child’s mobile freedom by opting out of texting plans or choosing a phone that only dials your contact number.

Phone restrictions and limits

For most parents, teaching mobile responsibility is an unprecedented process and the technology is changing at such a rapid pace it can be a daunting prospect. Don’t be afraid to set limits and monitor your child’s phone usage. Experts agree that the younger the child, the more they struggle with impulse control and, although they often feel that parental investigation of their phones is an invasion of their personal “property”, it is necessary for their wellbeing and safety.

Talk to your child about your expectations for using a phone, set limits to ensure their safety and set clear consequences for breaking the rules. There are also parental controls that are available within the phone’s settings to help filter out inappropriate content, prevent kids from downloading apps, monitor use, and disable features during certain times of the day. In iPhones, you can find parental controls within settings app. Android users can take advantage of parental control settings through many apps available in the Google Play store.

How media has changed

Our access to media has changed dramatically over the last few years and the increased screen time, largely due to smartphone usage, is having much more of an impact than you might realize. Here is a look at how teens currently utilize media and how it has affected their social environment and health compared to 10 and 20 years ago:
Courtesy of TeenSafe