In today’s culture, it’s not uncommon for young children to know just as much, if not more, about the inner-workings of technology. Undoubtedly, a time will come when the topic of cellphones will need to address. It’s a decision every parent will need to figure out, sometimes through trial and error—how do you prepare your children to be responsible stewards of technology (a pinnacle of today’s society that is inevitable) while ensuring that they’re at a place in life where they can handle the implications, good and bad, that can result from cyber-connections.
Different factors will determine if it’s the right time for your child to receive a cell phone. Such factors include your child’s after-school activities, how often they’re left home alone, their maturity level and their ability to responsibly handle the pricey possession. We give three thinking points you’ll want to consider before handing over that new iPhone to your all-too-eager child.
Communication & Academic Benefits
Up until a certain age, many kids just want a cell phone so that they can watch entertaining videos and play games during their spare time. At a certain point, however, the purpose of your children having a cell phones shifts from distracting entertainment to being a valuable form of communication—a way of ensuring that they’re safe, and a means of giving you peace of mind that they can call for help if needed. For the most part, this doesn’t become necessary until the child is old enough to be alone, whether it be from extracurricular activities, spending time with friends without parental supervision, or just being at an age where they can stay home unattended.
Whatever the reason, this age will vary from family to family. A cell phone may become relevant starting at 10 years old for one family, or may not be necessary until the child is driving at 16 for another family. With summer around the corner and children more likely to be alone at home or with friends, you might consider a test-run to see how your child handles having a cell phone. If you feel it’s too soon to hand over a smart phone, consider getting them a flip phone that doesn’t have the internet access, but will allow calls and texts.
Another benefit to getting your child a cell phone is the academic advantages it can have. In today’s day and age, school programs are increasingly gearing curriculum around technology and a child’s ability to access the internet, whether it be via an iPad or a cell phone. If your child is mature enough to handle the responsibility of owning a cell phone for academic and personal gain, it’s a benefit worth considering.
The social implications that go hand-in-hand with cell phones can serve as both a rose and thorn for children—a reality that most parents are all too aware of. On one hand, cell phones help your children stay connected with their peers—a priority that is likely more important to the child than the parent, but a factor to be considered, nonetheless. Through social media, texting, and other apps, teenagers are able to stay connected with their friends, while being notified and aware of social events coming up. The flip side to this, of course, is a child’s tendency to get fully absorbed into their cyber-connections. Along with social media use comes the tendency to compare one’s life to another’s—without being equipped with the right mindset and sense of reality, this can lead to anxiety and even depression for children.
Another reality of smart phone use by teenagers that serves as a deterrent for parents is the fact that cyber-bullying is such a rampant issue with today’s generation. Allowing your children to be connected to peers through texting and social media inevitably invites the possibility of cyber-bullying into their lives. One way to help control this is by monitoring your children’s communications and phone use. If you’re fearful that bullying, or inappropriate relationships, may be developing from the privacy of their cell phone, you have the right and responsibility to monitor their engagements.
All in all, one of the greatest factors that should be considered before buying a child a cell phone is their maturity and ability to handle the responsibility of having a cell phone. Is your child prone to losing things? If so, buying them an iPhone may not be the right call at this time in their life. When you explain data-charges to them, are they responsible enough to limit their use if needed, and refrain from racking up a high phone bill? Additionally, is your child able to accept cell-phone time restrictions with a calm and good attitude (whether it be allowing you to monitor their engagements, or limit the time they’re allowed to spend on their cell phone), and understand that these parameters are set in place for a good reason?
What’s more, is your child able to stay centered with reality amidst the illusions of social media and the temptation of having infinite entertainment at the tips of their fingers? If you notice your child tends to become a zombie as soon as they eye a screen, they’re not able to control the urge to check their phones during class and seem overly distracted, or they’re choosing screen time over the opportunity to converse and spend quality time with people in their lives, they may not be prepared for the responsibility of a smart phone.
Deciding when the right time to purchase a child a cell phone is a challenging decision that every parent will eventually have to make. Whatever is decided, there are options for every family, regardless of their unique situation. Whether you buy your child an iPhone, a flip phone, or opt to stick with the family computer for now, make sure you’ve considered the benefits of increased communication, the consequences of social connectivity, and the implications of your child’s personal maturity levels and how that will play out through the ownership of a mobile device.