We are quickly approaching the holidays and many parents may be thinking about giving their child their first cell phone or smartphone. I often get asked: “What is the right age to buy my child a cell phone?” The bottom line is that no one knows your child more than you do so you have to consider a few different factors.
Child psychologists and online safety experts say it all depends on the child’s maturity level and need for the phone. Parents may ask themselves whether or not their child is responsible enough to have such an expensive and advanced device. For example, would they keep it charged, answer it if their parents were calling, or be careful not to lose it? What do they really want to have one for? Parents shouldn’t give in to the argument that “all my friends have one” or “I’m the only person at school who doesn’t have one.”
As parents, we also need to question why our kids feel that they need a smartphone. If there is no clear or specific answer, then it’s probably safe to say they don’t have to have one. Many experts suggest holding off as long as possible because parents and kids should communicate more directly then via text or phone calls. Once technology comes into play, communication can take on a whole new look of texting and email and we no longer have frequent face-to-face communications that we should have with our kids. Another risk in giving a child a phone so early, especially if it is a smartphone with easy access to social networks, apps and other online features, is that they risk oversharing too much information. It’s easy to check in, update their status or tweet about where they are at a given time, or share other personal information with the use of a cell phone.
A solution to this debate is to give a child your old phone. This gives parents better knowledge of the features their child will have access to. When selecting a phone or specific service for your child, talk to your cell phone provider to find out what features come with the phone. You may also want to look at services that help set use restrictions or limit who a child can call or when they can use the phone to call, text, go online, etc. As your child matures, you may want to loosen up the controls and start to allow them the use of more features. Having a cell phone is about being responsible, and it’s a privilege that some kids may not yet be ready for.