Is your child ready for a mobile phone? 3 considerations before you get one

two boys on their mobile phones

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Has your child been bugging you for a phone lately?

Everyone has a mobile phone nowadays. It can be good for your kid’s safety and security especially when they start going to school. However, smartphones can also cause harm. Kids can become dependent and even get addicted to these devices. Overuse could lead to health or psychological issues such as obesity and depression (How smartphones are making kids unhappy). It can also open them up to cyberbullying, inappropriate content, or online scams.

Getting a phone for your child is not an easy decision. Here are a few things to consider before you get one:

Does your child

  1. Have a strong sense of responsibility?

    It’s not about the age. Don’t give your child a phone just because they turned 12. It’s about maturity and how they handle responsibilities. Ask these questions: Does your child: Often lose toys and other things? Ask you often where to find their belongings? Have to be told to do their homework, chores, or routine things like brushing teeth or going to bed at a certain time? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, then your child might not be ready for a mobile phone.

    Having a phone is a responsibility. They need to know the limits of its use. It’s also a costly gadget. They must understand how to take care of it, protect the data in it, and be careful not lose it.

  2. Have good tech sense?

    Aside from knowing how to use the phone, being tech-literate also means having enough sense not to fall victim to cyberbullying, scammers, and other online dangers. They should be aware of the harmful effects of overuse, sharing personal information, and posting inappropriate content. Whatever they share over text or online today will have an effect on their future.

  3. Have a good grasp of social cues?

    Is your child well-adjusted socially? If not, a smart phone can be a gateway to becoming more socially awkward or even anti-social. They can get engrossed in mobile use and retreat in their own “virtual world”. They will also be open to so much content. Are they mature enough to know that not everything online is true?

If you decide to get your child a phone:

  1. Supervise use

    Set limits on phone usage. For example, they can use it only after homework and chores are done. No phones during class, on the table during dinner time, at church, and during important gatherings. Consider setting a test period of three months. If your child breaks any of the rules, they should know that the phone will be returned to the store.

  2. Consider getting a phone without a data plan

    For younger kids, a phone that is not internet-enabled may be better during the test period. They will still be able to call and text but not go online. Scout around for the best mobile plan. There will be offers with free phones but monthly payments can be costly. If you already have a phone on a plan, check with your provider if they can provide a free phone or a discount on a new one. Family plans usually have discounts for additional lines. Ask about promotions or special deals with your provider and compare it with other companies’ offers. You can check online or from stores and kiosks.

  3. Know their password

    Tell your child that you will be checking their phone use. Knowing that their parents will see their smartphone activities can help them avoid risky online behavior. Check your child’s texts, posts, and stored photos from time to time. Explain that you respect their privacy but keeping them safe is more important. You can gradually allow them to self-regulate especially when you see that they are responsible with their mobile use.

Article updated April 15, 2021.

Sources: When should you get your kid a phone? Danielle Cohen,; Is your teen or tween ready for their first cell phone? Tips for parents and kids, Nadine, Save Money in Winnipeg; An age-by-age guide to kids and smartphones, Stacey Stein, Today’s Parent; How smartphones are making kids unhappy, Audie Cornish, NPR. All retrieved April 26, 2018.

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Community Resources

Media Smarts website has many resources to help keep yourself updated about trends and issues in the digital world. Parenting the Digital Generation is an online tutorial that offers tips and strategies for everything from Facebook privacy settings, online shopping, cyberbullying, to protecting your computer from viruses. It also has other helpful tutorials and workshops for you and your kids to brief yourselves about ethics, media literacy and handling social media.

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