“Can I have a cell phone?”
It’s a question today’s parents expect to be asked at some point during their child rearing years, but one which lacks a clear-cut answer. Although cell phones are convenient and come with unquestionable safety benefits, they are also costly, can be a distraction and open the door to a host of other potential problems.
Once upon a time, cell phones were typically earmarked for teenaged drivers who needed one in the event of a roadside emergency or those who had a part-time job to help pay for it. However, thanks to a wide variety of plans designed with the busy family in mind, it is more common than ever for kids of all ages to have their own device. In fact, according to the National Consumers League, a whopping 56 percent of kids aged 8-12 have their own cell phones while research at Pew Charitable Trusts show that 75 percent of teenagers report having cell phones.
Parental opinion varies widely on the subject. Recently Indy’s Child Facebook readers were asked “At what age did you allow a cell phone for your child? What factored into your decision?” Several posts stated that a common age was between 9 -10 years old and a concern for safety and the convenience of staying connected were frequently the deciding issues. Regarding her son, Anna L. wrote “When he was 10 because when he got off the bus he was home alone for about 15-20 minutes until I got home from work and we don’t have a home phone.” Similarly, Dawn M. says “I don’t recall the exact age. I think around 10. We wanted him to be able to reach us while at activities.” Another reader, Heather C. commented, “My kiddo was 10 and it was mostly for us. He was going to friend’s house more and more and sports and we wanted to be able to reach him without having to go through someone else.”
If you’re contemplating getting a cell phone for your child, it’s important to take into account his or her maturity level. Here are few questions to consider before making your decision:
- Can your child handle the responsibility of a cell phone?
- Do they have a habit of losing things?
- Do they understand the financial investment a cell phone requires?
- Can they be trusted to use the phone judiciously without racking up exorbitant charges?
- Can you trust them not to surf inappropriate websites or send inappropriate messages?
- Do they understand and accept that you will have access to their email messages and texts at any time?
Dr. Laura Markham, psychologist and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting says that when it comes to cell phones, parents need to discuss the rules and boundaries of their use with their children prior to making the purchase. After that, regular conversations should take place about their appropriate use, the texts they are receiving, apps they have on their phone, etc.
When parents do make the decision to provide their child with a phone, there are a number of ways they can curtail their child’s usage and monitor their activity. On their web site, Verizon Wireless suggests parents buy their child a basic phone as opposed to a smart phone and consider a pre-paid or pay-as-you-go-plan so that fees do not spiral out of control.
Ultimately, the age at which to give a child a cell phone is a highly personal decision. It is a major responsibility, but also a chance for your son or daughter to show they can manage this type of accountability. Choose a plan wisely, have rules in place about proper usage and don’t be afraid to revoke the privilege if necessary – then enjoy the many benefits this modern technology provides that allow you to stay in connected with your kids.