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? Or are you considering equipping your child with one to ensure their safety and security?

There is no doubt that mobile phones are great tools. They can instantly connect you to your child. If your kids need you, they can send you a message right away (especially helpful during Manitoba’s winter months when there’s a danger of being locked out of the house). If you want to remind them of something (or vice versa), just a few clicks on the phone and it’s done. With a phone, you would be able to always know where they are.

On the flipside, mobile phones, especially smartphones, can be addictive. Because of its many features (games, social media, YouTube, etc.), kids can develop increasing dependence on their phones. This could lead to health or psychological issues such as obesity and depression (How smartphones are making kids unhappy, Audie Cornish interview with Jean M. Twenge, NPR). It can also open them up to cyberbullying, inappropriate content, or online scams.

Getting a phone for them 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 yourself: does your child often lose toys and other things? Does he/she ask you often where to find his belongings? Do you have to tell your child to do his/her homework, chores, or routine things like brushing their teeth or going to bed at a certain time? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you know that your child is not ready for a mobile phone.
  2.  
    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.

  3. have good tech sense? – being tech savvy is important to prevent your child from falling prey to cyberbullying, scammers, and other online dangers. Your child must be aware of the harmful effects of overuse, sharing of personal information and more importantly of posting inappropriate content. They should realize that whatever they post online today will have an effect on their future. Would a university admissions officer or an HR manager be impressed or horrified when they see your child’s posts a few years from now?
  4. 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. Think about it. Will your child be affected if he/she does not have many “likes” or followers on social media? How will your child handle nasty comments or will he or she dish out the nasty comments? Also, will your child be able to discern credible sites from trash sites? Will he/she understand that not everything on the internet is true? Your child will be open to so much content. Your child should be prepared to deal with it.

When you do get your child a phone:

  1. Set clear rules – Set limits on phone usage. Set how many hours can they use it and specify the time time of day it is allowed. For instance, you can forbid use before bedtime or late at night, and they can use it only after homework and chores are done. Also, no phones during class, not on the table during dinner time, or at church, or during important gatherings. Consider setting a probationary period of three months. If your child breaks any of the rules, he/she should know that the phone will go back to the store.
  2. Consider a phone without a data plan – do a test run by getting your child a phone that is not internet-enabled. They can still call and text but not go online. If they need to go on the internet, they can use the computer at home where you will be able to watch and supervise their online behavior.
     
    Decide what your child needs and will be using. Then scout around for the best plan. There will be plans with free phones but monthly payments may be costly. Also, getting a high-end phone will not only be impractical, it will not be safe for your child to carry around. If you already have a phone on a plan, check with your provider. Consider a family plan that has discounts for additional lines. Ask about promotions or special deals with your provider and compare it with other companies’ offers. This will be easy to do at a mall where various mobile phone carrier companies will have stores and kiosks.
  3. Know their password – let your child know that you intend to check their phone use and must know the phone’s password. Knowing that their mom or dad will see their smartphone activities can help them avoid more risky online behavior. Check your child’s texts, posts, and stored photos. Explain to your child that you do respect his or her privacy, however, keeping them safe and disciplining them are more important. These are your main priorities as a parent.

 
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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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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