It seems like kids come out of the womb nowadays with a smartphone in hand - everybody has one. They’re showing up in elementary schools, and we’re hearing more and more stories about young kids forming social media accounts, being bullied by classmates, oversharing information online. What age is the right age to give your kids a cell phone is a nerve-wracking question for parents, because nowadays, cell phone means smartphone, and smartphones are far more powerful than we expected phones to ever be.
With a smartphone, your child will more or less have total access to the internet from his or her hand, and that means they can make any number of unwise decisions completely away from your eyes. That can be a terrifying thought for parents to handle, but they then have to weigh that with the fact that absolutely everybody around your child has a smartphone and do you want to be the one parent that says no? Well, maybe. It depends on a number of factors.
Here are five things you should consider before you make that leap and get your child a cell phone.
1. Your child’s emotional maturity
How emotionally mature is your child? How much does he or she know about the world? With a cellphone, she’ll have access to social media accounts, the web, and any number of apps available in app stores, some of which are almost totally unregulated. Kids are notorious for making bad choices - it’s what they do - and cyberbullying is becoming a problem at increasingly younger ages. Is your child mature enough to have access to the web unsupervised? Does she have a need for it? Are her friends making good choices with their phones? Don’t be afraid to take all this into consideration before deciding she’s ready for an iPhone.
2. Using parental control settings
Although you probably won’t be able to shield your child from everything harmful on the internet, you can protect him from himself with parental control settings. With any device you buy that can connect to the internet, do heavy research into what parental control settings exist, how to turn them on and how easily they can be turned off. Make sure you turn on as many as you feel you need before handing the device over to your child, and avoid writing down easily locatable directions on how to remove them.
3. Teaching responsible behavior
Children can be irresponsible. That means anything from misusing devices to losing them outright, which means you have to trust your child to protect the device before you hand it over. Smartphones in particular are fragile devices, which means even with a sturdy case, a clumsy or rambunctious kid can easily smash the screen if he’s not being careful. And such expensive phones are going to be targets for thieves, even among students.
Your child should learn about being careful with devices, avoiding storing them in easily identifiable places like in their back pocket, and remembering not to leave the phone behind when they go anywhere. You don’t want to replace such an expensive device regularly, which means if your child doesn’t show responsibility for their things, it’s not the right time.
4. The cost of of cell phones
Smartphones are expensive, usually costing several hundred dollars on the low end. And even children who are trying their best are prone to accidentally losing or breaking their phones, which means you can’t expect it to never happen. How much you’re willing to pay should factor into your decision. Consider purchasing an insurance plan for your child’s phone, since they’re more likely to need it, and also consider getting an older model and using it with a SignalBooster to get good reception when they’re in remote locations. Your young child does not need the absolute latest model of any phone, and older models will be cheaper to replace.
5. The benefits of a phone
With a phone, your child will have a lot more freedom. She can call you to pick her up after school if she’s staying for clubs, she can call you from her friend’s house if she wants to go home, and she can give you regular updates on what she’s doing. You have a direct line of communication with her, which means if a disaster takes place, you don’t have to worry about third parties communicating for you. She’ll be able to contact you readily when she needs you and vice versa, and you’ll have greater peace of mind when she does go out with her friends. How long should you wait before getting your child a cellphone? That depends on a lot of things, but mostly it depends on whether you trust your child to use one responsibly. Phones are a privilege, and if they’re not ready for a smartphone, consider holding off or getting a cheap, call-only flip phone instead.