If your child hasn’t already asked you for a cell phone, you know the question is coming soon. The numbers say it all – nearly 80% of teenagers have a cell phone, over half of 8-12 year olds have a cell phone, and almost a quarter of children younger than 8 years old have a cell phone. Most parents don’t even wait to be asked – almost 60% have offered cell phones to their 10 and 11 year old children.
Whether you’re waiting for the big question or planning to lead the conversation yourself, the thought in the back of your mind has to be, “When should my child get a cell phone?”
Every situation is different, each child unique. If you’re wrestling with the idea of giving your child a cell phone, it’s important to review the pros and cons when determining if the time is right.
If your child has a cell phone, you can check in on his activities without being overly obtrusive. Many kids ages 10-14 want to spend most of their time with their friends. A cell phone is a practical way to give your child his independence while still keeping him connected at all times. For children who walk to and from school, participate in after school activities, and spend much of their time with friends, a cell phone might be appropriate to have.
Your child also has the ability to reach out for help with a cell phone in the case of an emergency. Calling 911, however, is a serious responsibility for children without the supervision of adults. Most kids younger than 10 years old are not mature or knowledgable enough to handle an emergency alone. If your child is not ready to use his cell phone when it’s needed most, he’s probably not ready to get one altogether.
Finally, a cell phone opens up educational and learning opportunities for your child. More than half of parents believe that mobile devices make learning fun, teach basic technology skills, foster creativity and responsibility, and offer new ways to interact and discover. Responsible cell phone use can help your child develop and refine his digital behavior, an increasingly necessary skill in the 21st century.
Your child has the potential to use his cell phone too much. Overuse can become compulsive and interfere with a child’s ability to concentrate. Cell phones with texting capabilities can disrupt children’s sleep patterns. You can set limits through your cell phone company, such as the number of texts your child can send and the number of minutes he can use his cell phone.
Some online content accessed from mobile devices can be inappropriate for your child. 87% of children have seen or experienced cyberbullying, a form of online harassment, and almost half have gone to a website their parents would not approve. Internet restrictions and other parental settings are available on most phones.
Texting while driving is a dangerous activity that’s especially common with teenage drivers. One third of teens ages 16-17 who use text messaging have texted while driving. According to a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study, texting is the most distracting thing someone can do while driving. Talk to your child about the dangers of texting while driving.
The average age of a child who receives his first cell phone is 12.1 years old, but age should not be the most important factor in your decision. The right time to give your child a cell phone should simply depend on whether the pros listed above outweigh the the cons, regardless of age.
Does your child walk to and from places? Do you worry about him when he’s not with you? Do you want a way to quickly reach him when he’s out of the house, whether he’s with his friends or at an after school activity? Do you want him to have a way to call for help if he’s in an emergency? Make sure you also consider…
Is he responsible? Do you trust him to make good decisions with his phone? Will he use his calling, texting, and web browsing privileges reasonably and appropriately? Can he handle himself in an emergency and use his phone to call 911? If he’s old enough to drive soon, can you trust him to never text while driving?
No one knows your child better than you, and you won’t get a definitive answer from a single source. What’s important to consider is whether all the factors at play make right now a favorable time for your child to get a cell phone.