Is it too early to get my child a cell phone?

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Safety First: Kids With Cell Phones Makes Safety Sense

The next time your child starts begging you for their own smart phone, and uses the compelling argument that “everyone else has one,” they may really be telling the truth!

According to WebMD, 31 percent of kids 10 and under, 69 percent of kids 11 to 14 and a whopping 85 percent of teens do actually have their own cell phone.

But just because the parents of these other kids, tweens or teens have decided to allow their children to have cell phones, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to follow suit. Even though your kids probably don’t consciously realize it, they are still counting on you to be their parents, which sometimes includes the very tough job of saying, “no.”

How do you know when it is the right time to allow your child or teen to get a cell phone of their own? Let’s look at what the experts have to say on this topic.

Safety First: Kids With Cell Phones Makes Safety Sense

With today’s high-octane lifestyles, it can be a challenge to be with your kids 24/7. If your child rides their bicycle or takes a school bus or carpools to school, there is always the risk that something may happen and they will need to reach you.

Similarly, once your child starts working at a part-time job, becomes involved in extracurricular school activities or earns a later curfew to hang out with friends, a cell phone can be a vital link they have to you if they need you.

As PBS Parents points out, sometimes concerns for your child’s safety means the gift of a cell phone makes perfect sense.

What to think through: Consider disabling certain features such as texting or open web access for younger children. Common Sense Media highlights the option of installing parental control apps to monitor how your child uses their new cell phone. For children ages 11 and younger, a calls-only phone plan may work best.

Learning Responsibility: Cell Phones As Teachers

Starting in the tween years, gifting your child with a cell phone can be a great tool to help your child learn responsibility and accountability. Since most tweens and teens are highly motivated to keep cell phone privileges, this can provide extra motivation to maintain responsible behaviors in areas linked to cell phone use.

There are signs your child may be ready for the responsibility of owning and caring for their own personal cell phone. A tween or teen who takes pretty good care of other personal belongings and is good about completing homework and helping around the house may indeed be ready for the responsibility of owning a cell phone.

The Huffington Post suggests creating a cell phone contract with your child. You can lay out ground rules for usage hours, parental access to passwords and apps, grounds for withdrawal of cell phone privileges and terms if the phone is damaged or lost while in the child’s care.

What to think through: This first-phone contract and this printable cell phone contract both offer useful templates for creating your own contract with your child. This contract can also reinforce that cell phones are not toys, but are tools to be used where appropriate.

Accountability: Your Rights As a Parent

When cell phones were still less common, certain issues regarding user privacy made parents reluctant to monitor their children’s usage. Parenting experts say taking a hands-off approach to your child’s use of their personal cell phone can be a mistake.

Serious issues such as cyber-bullying and child predators make keeping at least minimal tabs on your child’s use of email, texting, social media and web surfing almost not-optional today.

Here, not only is monitoring your child’s cell phone yet another tool to keep an open conversation going with your child about daily life challenges in the cyber age, but it is also just responsible parenting.

In fact, a recent Pew Research study showed that 61 percent of parents monitored their children’s website browsing activity, 60 percent monitored social media usage, 48 percent reviewed their children’s calls and texts and 39 percent used parental control apps to block or restrict use of the cell phone.

Here, a cell phone can be a valuable resource to help your child learn accountability. For example, a child who does what she says she will do when she says she will do it in other areas of life may be able to earn some additional cell phone usage privacy. Conversely, a child who skips chores or homework or lies about his whereabouts may find his cell phone usage being more closely monitored.

What to think through: There are strong arguments to closely monitor your child’s cell phone use in the early days. Even teens who are mature for their age in other ways may not realize when they are getting into murky waters online. Watching out for cyber bullying as well as posting, texting and sharing responsibly are difficult lessons for even adults to learn!

Choosing Your Moment: Getting Your Child a Cell Phone

As with many parenthood issues, there is no single uniform consensus about when is the right moment for gifting your child with a cell phone. For some parents, having the ability to connect instantly with your child is a must-have option for safety.

Many parents agree a child is ready for a cell phone when the child can understand that cell phones aren’t toys. Just having a cell phone doesn’t suddenly make face-to-face connection with parents, family and friends optional. A cell phone can make the difference between life or death in emergency situations, which makes it a very serious responsibility indeed!

Younger children who aren’t yet ready for the “real” digital world can practice digital responsibility with Pley.com‘s high quality collection of digital toys and games, including the new National Geographic line of Pleyboxes that feature hands-on and digital games and content.