Giving children their own cell phones was once considered an indulgence. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, only 18 percent of 12-year-olds were part of the mobile revolution in 2004. In 2011, the same poll found that 58 percent of 12-year-olds – and nearly 75 percent of children aged 12 to 17 – own a phone. Even schools have gotten on board, with several relaxing rules so that students can bring their phones to school as long as they don't use them in class. The transition from "extravagance" to perceived necessity happened rapidly, and many parents are astonished to hear that their preteen is the only one of his or her peers who doesn't have one.
The decision over who should and should not be allowed to call, text, and surf while on the go is one that many parents are dealing with much earlier than they expected, and it's a difficult one: OK, at 17, it makes sense, because older teens spend a lot of time on their own and may (actually must) call someone. But 12? Eleven? Even ten years? Every child is unique, and there is no set age at which it is suddenly OK for a child to have a phone. When presented with a decision, there are a number of questions parents can ask themselves to aid in the decision-making process. Few of them will have clear answers, but they can provide a solid overall picture of whether your youngster is ready for a phone.
How Do You Decide?
Your child's motivations for wanting a phone are most likely obvious. As early as sixth grade, social pressure to get one, particularly for texting, can be tremendous. But, for parents, one of the most important reasons to consider buying a cell phone for a young child is safety. No one wants a child who is in a dangerous situation and cannot readily phone home. No one wants a youngster who is "running a little late" and unable to contact their parents. The question is, though, whether that is a genuine concern.
Is my youngster spending a lot of time alone?
There's nothing wrong with getting your child a phone for social reasons; however, if the major reason you're considering the expense is so your child can always contact you, and vice versa, you'll want to assess if your child is alone frequently enough to justify the phone. If your child is 12, and you do a lot of group movie-theater and mall drop-offs, it might be perfectly fair to give him or her a phone so they can contact home. Similarly, if he or she walks to and from school alone or participates in a lot of solo afterschool activities, the safety concern may be a cause to take the risk. If, on the other hand, your child rides with you to and from school and is otherwise always in the presence of a responsible adult – in other words, if your child is 8 years old – you may want to revisit the cell-phone-for-safety argument.
Is my child accountable?
A child who often loses toys, headbands, house keys, school books, and lunch bags, and has been known to return from school with only one shoe, is unlikely to keep a cell phone for long. What's the point?
Does my child usually follow my instructions?
When they give their child his or her own phone, most wise parents establish ground rules. Otherwise, you risk not only incurring potentially costly fees, but also, in the case of Internet-connected, camera- and/or video-equipped phones, some safety concerns regarding how, when, and with whom your child is talking. Entrusting your child with a phone may be asking for trouble if he or she is a rule-breaker. These are the key concerns to consider, but there's another factor that many parents overlook in this debate: Do you want your child to have significantly more privacy?
For younger children, such as elementary and middle-schoolers, adding a cell phone to the mix may result in you learning significantly less about their life. Understand that, while you may be more concerned with safety and family communication, your youngster is more likely to be concerned with the ability to connect privately with peers. Determine how much you would miss out on if your child can only communicate with others via text. However, mobile phone carriers and software companies are increasingly efficiently addressing these final two issues, resulting in some fascinating dynamics in the family phone plan.
Cell Phone Restrictions
While the decision to give a child a mobile phone is a personal one, there is one thing that every parent who does so should do, regardless of the child's age or responsibility level: establish ground rules. One of the most common misconceptions parents make in this area is assuming their child understands what is and is not proper use. In far too many circumstances, this can result in overage charges, decreased school performance as a result of distractions, and even harmful activities. Setting clear restrictions from the start, such as when and where it's okay to use the phone and how many minutes, texts, and downloads are allowed every billing cycle, is the greatest method to reduce the possibility of actual difficulties.
However, safety concerns are far more pressing. Who does your child text? What exactly is your youngster downloading? Many safety concerns, as well as worries about distraction, can now be addressed by parental limitations that place the majority of power in the hands of the parents rather than the child. There are numerous and diverse alternatives. Cell phone and third-party software businesses enable you to:
- Limit the times when a phone may be used.
- Determine how it will be used.
- Determine how much data and minutes are permitted before the phone is turned off, save for receiving calls.
- Set which Web sites and download kinds are and are not accessible.
- Arrange for copies of text messages to be forwarded to a parent's phone for review, which may encourage your youngster to cease texting friends entirely, if that's your goal.
These features, of course, cost money, but in many cases, they're bundled in a family-plan bundle that suddenly doesn't cost much more than what you're already paying for. Phone companies have realized that children are a large market, and it is in their best interests to make it reasonable for parents to bring on young family members who will undoubtedly use cell phones for a long, long time. It's worth noting that most experts recommend avoiding Internet-connected and camera-equipped phones for the youngest users in order to avoid dealing with the most challenging cell-phone difficulties with children who may not fully understand them. Which leads us to the third question: Who are the recommended "youngest users"? In general, child-development specialists advise parents not to purchase phones for children under the age of 11. In the end, it's a completely personal decision, and parents are the best people to determine what their child needs and is ready for.