Although younger children will surely love their personalized story books, Easy Bake Ovens and LEGO kits, there is one question that is sure to come up: “Can I have a cell phone?” And while the trend toward children carrying cell phones is ever-younger, there is no standard age at which the answer to that question has to be yes.
Many adults love to connect with their older kids through smartphones. You can use them to find each other in a crowded mall, help with dinner plans and pick up random grocery items and even one another. Cell phones make life easier in so many ways, but along with that convenience comes a lot of responsibility. How do you determine if your child is ready?
Like most parenting strategies, the decision isn’t one size fits all. It’s difficult to assign a specific age and depends more on a child’s individual level of responsibility and maturity.
“Look for the developmental signs,” says Lori Evans, MD, director of training in psychology at the NYU Child Study Center. “Does your child lose his belongings? Is he generally a responsible kid? Can you trust him? Will he understand how to use the phone safely? The rate at which kids mature varies—it will even be different among siblings.”
The following suggestions may help with your decision:
Consider Verizon’s FamilyBase™. This lets you install parental controls on your kids’ mobile devices so you can check what they’re doing. You can also use it to help guide your kids in the right direction by monitoring which social networks they use and for how long, as well as who they’re texting and calling.
Consider a basic phone instead of a smartphone. If the purpose of the phone is just for your child to be able to reach you in an emergency, he doesn’t need the entire Internet in the palm of his hands.
Consider a prepaid or pay-as-you-go plan. Think of this first phone as “training wheels” for your child. As she demonstrates responsibility in using her phone, she can eventually earn the privilege of a plan or a phone with additional features.
Does your child demonstrate an understanding of other limits you’ve set? For instance, restricting TV time or playing video games? If the answer is yes, then the time may be right. If the answer is no, you may want to reconsider, or at least put the decision on hold.
Set clear boundaries about usage. This could include who he can call and when the phone needs to be turned off. Starting out with healthy boundaries will establish smarter usage as he gets a phone with more features and a more versatile plan.
Set a good example by setting your own personal boundaries. For example, some families have a “no phones at the table” rule. If you want your child to develop responsible phone habits, demonstrate them yourself.