Did you know that ninety-five percent of Americans own a cell phone of some kind? The percentage of cell phone ownership among 18-29 year –olds is even higher at 100%, according to the Pew Research Center on Internet and Technology.
It’s no surprise that more and more young kids are asking their parents to get them one.
So, what is the appropriate age to give your child a phone? The answer depends on several factors.
There’s no doubt about the convenience of having a cell phone handy when you need to communicate with someone. If your child has a cell phone, you can call or text him to find out where he is and what he's doing and inform him of your own plans. It can make you feel safer just knowing where your kids are. And in an emergency, a cell phone can be crucial if your child needs to reach you -- or vice versa.
While there are many good reasons to have a cell phone on hand, there are some down sides too.
One thing to consider is that they can become addictive. Sending and receiving texts, playing video games, watching movies as well as checking in on social media sites can impact your child’s sleep patterns and psychological wellbeing. Do you think your child is able to handle that kind of extra stress? Are you willing to put in the time, or have the time yourself, to monitor your child’s phone use and lay down the rules about how often they can use their phone?
There are also other health considerations; cell phones use radio waves. That's radiation (though it's not like what you'd get from an X-ray). Can cell phone radiation affect your child’s health, especially if children start using phones at a very young age when their brains are still developing?
In 2011, an international study showed no link between cell phone use and brain tumors in adolescents and teens. The researchers pointed out, though, that the people in that study didn't use their phones as much as people do today. Many health experts believe more current studies need to be done over a longer period of time. It may be take several decades to find the answer.
Social interaction and cell phone use go hand in hand. It can often be positive thing. It's one way kids can learn to relate to other kids. But there is also the potential for "cyber bullying” which is social harassment via text, instant messaging, or other social media. Many smartphones have a "location sharing" feature, which could raise concerns about people stalking kids as they go from place to place.
There isn't a lot of research yet on how cell phones affect mental and emotional health. But early studies show that frequent texting and emailing can disrupt kids' concentration. It can also become compulsive if kids start being "on call" 24/7 to keep up with their friends. That’s one of the addictive challenges – even for adults.
A child’s age shouldn’t be the only determining factor before deciding on when children are ready for their own cell phone.
Caroline Knorr, parenting editor with the nonprofit group Common Sense Media, says, "Maturity and the ability to be responsible are more important than a child's numerical age.
She says, "We want our kids to be independent, to be able to walk home from school and play at the playground without us. We want them to have that old-fashioned, fun experience of being on their own, and cell phones can help with that. But parents have to do their research and talk to their children and make sure they're using the phones safely themselves, too."
As your child becomes more independent (think middle school or high school), they're closer to needing a phone than younger children whom you still take everywhere.
"Look for the developmental signs," Evans says. "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."
And think long and hard about whether your child actually needs rather than just wants that phone. "Children really only need phones if they're traveling alone from place to place," Evans says. "Kids in carpools may not need phones, but kids traveling on a subway, bus or walking to school may. It's about who they are as individuals, what's going on in their lives, and how much they can handle, not a certain age or grade."
If you’ve made the decision that your little one can have a cell phone, here are some ideas to make it work for you and your child.
Should you check who your child is calling and what she's tweeting?
Absolutely, Knorr says. "I know that kids consider mobile devices to be personal property," she says. "And they don't want their parents snooping around. But I think parents are justified in saying, 'I understand this can be used for good but it also can be misused. So every now and then I'm going to check to make sure you're using it responsibly and respectfully.' Then make it an ongoing dialogue: 'Have you gotten weird texts?' 'Any calls that made you uncomfortable?' 'Who are you texting?'"
But you might want to skip the GPS locator services. Neither Knorr nor Evans recommends them unless your child is showing a pattern of getting into trouble.
"Most kids don't need GPS trackers on them," Evans says. "That's really feeding on our anxiety as parents more than meeting a true safety need."
"The issue is really about educating children how to use cell phones in appropriate ways," Evans says. "Cell phones can definitely be beneficial, as long as you know your individual child."
Start with a basic phone for a young child. There are still phones that do not include a camera, Internet access, games or texting. You’ll most likely get some push back from your child on this, so be prepared to tell him or her why your starting with this type of phone. “ Remind her (or him) that phones are tools, not toys. "It's about safety, not social status or games," Knorr says.
If your child’s phone has texting or Internet abilities, set limits. Most cell phone companies allow you to cap the number of texts a user can send or receive as well as the number of minutes the cell phone can be used. You also can block Internet access and calls from unapproved numbers on most phones.
Designate times when the phone needs to be turned off such as meal times, study time, out walking and at least an hour before bedtime.
Provide your child with and teach them how to use earphones. Until more is known about the impact of cell phone radiation, it’s better to be safe than sorry. However, also teach them the appropriate places to wear earphones. It can be dangerous for children (and adults) to wear them when walking or bicycling – they may not be able to hear oncoming traffic. It also can take their focus off of what is going on around them.
Teach your child good cell phone etiquette. Children aren't born knowing the rules about how to use cell phones respectfully, including not using them to spread rumors, not taking (or sending) photos without people's permission, not sending inappropriate photos or texts, not having personal conversations in public places – and, of course, never communicating with strangers, no matter how they present themselves. It's up to you to teach them. And by all means, make sure you obey the same rules. Children learn more by watching how their parents handle things than by simply being told what to do.
There’s also a clever contract you can sign with your child when you give them the cell phone. It sets certain rules that they agree to follow and is a good resource that can be reviewed time and time again. CTIA has it listed and printable at this link.
It’s a different world than when we were kids. For most parents, cell phones either didn’t exist or were not as complex and portable as they are now. So, when do you give your child his or her own cell phone? Only after careful consideration to how it will impact their life. Once he or she owns one, it will be an extreme challenge to take it back.
Story source: Susan Davis, http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/children-and-cell-phones#1