Deciding on when to get your kid a cellphone

Jase turned twelve in May and just finished elementary school. Some of his classmates already have cellphones. Jase does not.

As an elementary school student who I walk/drive to school most of the time, there was no need for him to have a phone. His extra-curricular activities (soccer and karate) were done with me in attendance. Only when he stayed after school for violin practice or tutoring did he walk by himself (or with his sister). But we are just two blocks from the school. There was no need for a phone.

But next year, Jase enters middle school. And as I understand it, most of the kids there have cellphones. Teachers send messages via the Remind app. Homework requires different apps, and students even can use their phones during class to watch videos or utilize apps as part of a class exercise.

Now cellphones are not a requirement, but they can be an asset. And as Jase hears about friends who will be getting one, he too wants a cellphone. And we are considering getting him one. But all the talk of cellphones and middle school brought up the question….

When is the right time to get your child a cellphone?

It is not really a question of age. (Some experts say 12, others say 14 and a few suggest holding out as long as you can.) It is a question of maturity and responsibility. And in my opinion, it is also a question of need.

Things to consider before getting your child a cellphone

  • Does he/she have the ability to follow home and school rules?
  • Do they show that they are responsible and won’t lose/break the phone?
  • Do they understand data charges and paying for games and other apps? And will they respect any rules you set up regarding buying these apps/games?
  • How savvy is your child about technology? Does he/she truly understand future college admission staff, employers and colleagues could see anything posted now?
  • How well do they do with limits to screen time?
  • Do your kids need to be in touch for safety reasons? (Some people don’t have a home phone or their child travel a lot due to extracurricular activities.

And while you have to make sure your child is ready for a phone, parents also need to be aware of the dangers or possible issues with giving them a phone.

Risks/Disadvantages

  • Additional charge for an extra line, texting and data package
  • There is a higher risk of online bullies. A phone increases the possibility of encountering child predators.
  • As with any device (such as tablet), gaming system (X-Box, etc.) and a computer/laptop, a phone is another attention-sucking device, which can distract from schoolwork. The main difference is that a cellphone goes with a child everywhere, including outside of parental supervision.
  • A phone can interrupt sleep patterns with late-night texting.

If you do decide to get your child a cellphone, make sure they understand your rules and the consequences for breaking them from the beginning.

Your guidelines should be clear. Things you might want to consider…

  • You need to know their passwords
  • Have the ability to limit screen/phone time
  • Set up times the phone can’t be used such as dinnertime or bedtime
  • Determine what will happen if the phone is lost or damaged (Who pays for repairs/replacement)
  •  Make sure they know you will be monitoring their social media sites (this should be done whether they have a phone or not)

If you want an actual contract to outline these agreements, check out this one that can easily be adapted to your needs.

Deciding on getting your child a phone is a decision every parent will face and the decision will be different in each situation. I think Jase shows a great deal of responsibility and know he will follow any rules we establish as he has done so already with his iPad. So come August and school gets ready to start, he will be getting his first cellphone.

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