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Is My Child Ready for a Cell Phone?

September 24th, 2015     By Laura Buddenberg, Manager Training and Community Outreach, Mother of two

Digital, Parenting Skills, social media

With the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus coming out this weekend, smartphones will definitely be on the mind of kids and adults alike.

So let’s run down the pros and cons of cell phone use for young kids. On the pro side, a phone will allow your child to contact you whenever he or she needs to and vice versa. And if it’s a smartphone, you can even use it to track your child’s whereabouts.

As for cons, there are a few. First, there’s the expense. For a smartphone, you can expect to pay about $25 a month per extra line, plus the cost of however much data you allocate for that line.

Then there are social media apps like Snapchat, Whisper and Kik Messenger, which open your kids up to a world of cyberbullying and stalking. And many apps these days allow in-app purchasing, which means that your kid can run up hundreds of dollars in purchases without really understanding what he or she is doing.

Lastly there’s the issue of distraction. Being constantly attached to an internet-connected device can present a roadblock to staying on task and may even cause long-term attention issues.

So, what age is appropriate for cell phone use?

As with many things, it depends on the child and the family situation. But a recent study by the National Consumers League found that 60 percent of parents of children aged 8-12 provided them with cell phones, with the “sweet spot” being ages 10-11.

There’s one additional pro that wasn’t mentioned earlier. Because kids feel they absolutely need a cell phone to survive, it becomes a very useful bargaining tool when it comes to their behavior. You’ll be surprised at how fast your child comes around to your way of thinking when he or she is suddenly presented with the prospect of a life unconnected.

The parenting experts at Boys Town have put together a number of articles and videos on the subject, which you can access by clicking the links below.

Teens and Technology
Top 10 Parenting Tips for Family Use of Technology and Media
Balancing Technology and Media
Texts, Tweets and TV: How Much Is Too Much?

There’s even a guide to parenting in the digital age that contains further reading and additional information.

The bottom line is, you cannot simply hand your child a brand new smartphone and leave it at that. You need to establish the rules of use. And you need to set the device’s preferences to switch on whatever parental controls you require.

Parents think a phone is an all or nothing proposition. It’s not—you can provide the phone, but as a parent you can be the “phone librarian”. In other words, you can start them off by saying they can have the phone only when they’re in certain situations (babysitting, at ball practice and need to call for a ride home, etc.). If your child follows the rules during restricted usage times, you can increase the time he or she is allowed to have the phone. Conversely, you give and you take away—you can reinstate the restrictions if they don’t follow the family phone rules. After all, parents ultimately are responsible for what their underage kids do with these devices, and your number one goal and job is to keep them safe.

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