Phones are new to this era of parenting. We can’t look back at our own childhoods to decide when is the right time to give a child a phone.
There is no minimum age limit to own a phone (unfortunately) and no rule to say all children should have a phone by a certain age. And is age really what we should be focusing on?
To help you make an informed decision, here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to get your child a phone, or not.
SHOULD I GET MY CHILD A PHONE, OR NOT?
DO YOU LIVE IN AN AREA WHERE YOUR CHILD NEEDS A PHONE?
A phone becomes a necessity when a child travels alone. Whether you live in a rural/high-crime area or they have a long bus ride to school, a phone gives you and your child peace of mind. You can easily check-in with a phone if they frequently walk alone or go to new places, and you can install safety apps for an added layer of security.
DOES YOUR CHILD HAVE RESPONSIBILITIES WHICH REQUIRES THEM TO BE CONTACTABLE?
Older kids need a phone for reasons beyond socialisation. They may have a part-time job and to need to be contactable by their boss, or be home alone frequently looking after younger siblings. If you have a teen driver, they may need a phone should they experience car problems, or need to pick someone up. It’s important to make sure they understand that texting or talking on the phone whilst driving is one of the most dangerous things they can do. Talking to them about the risks is important but setting a good example is even better.
ARE YOU AWARE OF THE HEALTH RISKS BEFORE YOU GET YOUR CHILD A PHONE?
Radiation is understandably a chief concern amongst mums. While not as much as x-ray machines, cell phones do emit radiation that may affect developing brains. So far, studies have shown no link between cell phone use and brain tumors in adolescents, but experts say it will take decades to get conclusive evidence on this issue. In the meantime, current evidence suggests cell phone users are not at risk of radiofrequency energy exposure. Setting a reasonable phone schedule is best to be on the safe side.
“Too much screen time is also linked to problems that range from blurry vision to obesity. Habits picked up at a young age can persist through adulthood, so it’s important to establish good ones now.”
Make sure to monitor screen time, avoid phone use before bedtime and ensure your kids engage in active play each day away from devices. Get regular vision screenings when you visit your doctor to prevent problems.
ADHD is another issue that can be a concern with phone use. Children with ADHD are more likely to be distracted by phones that by design reinforces addictive behaviours and make them ignore or avoid important but boring activities like homework. If your child has ADHD and struggles with impulse control, they are more likely to post something on social media that they will regret later. They will also find it harder to follow phone schedules. It’s best to manage impulsivity before getting them a phone or you’ll have to be strict with limiting screen time.
IS YOUR CHILD MATURE ENOUGH TO OWN A PHONE?
“Maturity level is more important than age when deciding whether to get your child a phone or not.”
An 11-year-old can be more emotionally and socially mature than a 14-year-old who is impulsive and acts out on social media. Is your child socially aware? Does he/she understand social cues, or do they need more help in this area? You know it’s inappropriate (and annoying for the receiver) to text the same message over and over again when you don’t get a response, but your child might not. Do they follow schedules well and do homework on time despite video games/distractions? Or do they tend to stay glued to the screen? Are they tech savvy or do they need more instruction?
Should I get my child a phone, or not? (CONT.)
IS YOUR CHILD TRUSTWORTHY ENOUGH TO OWN A PHONE?
Trust is another important factor when getting your child a phone. Is your child responsible as a rule and can they be trusted to take care of belongings, especially a smart phone that costs hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars? Do they lose things often or are they careful most of the time? If the phone does break or is lost, who is responsible for replacing/paying for it? Even if you’re giving them a basic phone, you should still drive home that it is an item of value and responsibility.
DOES YOUR CHILD NEED A PHONE, OR WANT A PHONE?
You’ve probably felt left out when as a child you couldn’t have a video game or a trendy toy that everyone had.
“The fear of missing out and peer pressure are some of the top reason’s children ask their parents for a phone, even if they themselves don’t really want one or are not ready for one.”
It’s your decision whether to get them a phone based on their maturity level and responsibility, regardless of age and what their friends have.
WILL IT HELP YOU IF YOUR CHILD HAS A PHONE?
For many parents it is really helpful for their child to have a phone. Not only can you keep in contact with them through phone and messages, but you can use the phone tracker so you know where they are at any time. This is especially helpful in the early teenage years when they are developing their social independence and staying out in the evenings.
A phone can also be a reassurance if you co-parent and your child spends time at dad’s house. It’s nice to know you can contact them, even if just to wish them goodnight, and they can contact you should something go wrong.