Has your child been bugging you for a phone lately? Or are you considering getting your child one to ensure their safety and security?
There is no doubt that mobile phones are helpful tools. They can instantly connect you to your child for any need or even potential danger. On the other hand, phones, specifically smartphones, can also cause harm. Because of its many features (games, social media, etc.), kids can develop increasing dependence, even addiction. This 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 kids is not an easy decision. Here are a few things to consider before you get one:
Does your child
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 you know that your child is not ready for a mobile phone.
Having a phone is a big responsibility. They need to know the limits of its use. They should be able to follow these rules by themselves, without you telling them. 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.
Have good tech sense?
Aside knowing how to operate technology, being tech literate also means having enough sense not to fall victim to cyberbullying, scammers, and other online dangers. Your child must be aware of the harmful effects of overuse, sharing personal information, and posting inappropriate content. They should know that whatever they post online today will have an effect on their future.
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? Do they understand how social media works?
If you decide to get your child a phone:
Supervise their use
Set limits on phone usage. Examples are using it only after homework and when chores are done, never before bedtime or late at night. 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.
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.
Know their password
Let your child know that you intend to check their phone use. Knowing that their parents will see their smartphone activities can help them avoid more risky online behavior. Check your child’s texts, posts, and stored photos periodically. Explain to your child 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, childmind.org; 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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