There is a new rite of passage for kids today, and many parents have the question: “How old should my child be before I give them a cellphone?”
Spoiler alert: I am not going to give you one age as the right answer, because I don’t believe there is one magical age to be the perfect time.
Let me explain.
I think it is important for families to assess their unique situation and then make a decision based on their individual child. There are many factors for you to consider when making this decision. For example:
- Assess why your child feels they need a smartphone (it’s usually the child asking for one long before the parents are ready!). Is it a want, or is it a need? An example of the need for a phone is a child who walks to school and may be involved in afterschool activities. As a parent, you may need to have a device to get in contact with your child to communicate plans, etc. However, be careful not to let peer influence determine when to get a phone for your child. Wanting one because their friends have one may not be the best answer to determine the timing for giving them a phone.
How mature is your child? Some families may have a 12 year old who is more mature than a child that is older. With maturity, children tend to have a greater understanding of responsibility. If you give a child a phone and they are not mature enough for the responsibilities of owning a device, you could be setting them up for making poor decisions.
Is your child responsible for taking care of their belongings? Smartphones are expensive devices, and if it is lost, damaged, or stolen, it is very costly to replace. Because there will be a significant cost for replacement, it is a good idea to discuss the cost of the device, whether or not it is a new phone or one that is being handed down to them. Be clear about how much it costs each month for data, as well as how much it costs to replace a screen if it is cracked or broken. It is important to be transparent that you are investing in their privilege to use a device.
What technology is your child already using? Do they use, or have regular access to, tablets, gaming devices and systems, and computers? Have they respected your rules for use of these technologies? Their use here would be a good indication to determine if they will respect your limits for using a phone.
- What are your family values regarding technology and its use? How do you as a parent use a smartphone? Remember, our kids model our behaviour, so it is important to be aware of what they see us do with our devices.
For my family, our son was 10 years old when we decided to give him a phone. I was a working mom and he took the school bus for transportation to school. We decided to give him one of my old devices I no longer used so that we could easily communicate about where each other was. It gave me peace of mind knowing I could contact him and he could easily reach me. He has now been using a phone for over two years, and has been very responsible with the device and his use.
What did you decide to do for your family? Leave a comment on this post or join our facebook page www.facebook.com/socialcitizens to discuss how you approached this decision.
Next week, in Part 2, “Before you give your child a smartphone” I will include helpful information about more considerations to discuss as a family.