However, no matter what your child may say and how much they may beg, there are some arguments that are not reason enough to get a cell phone. You want to make sure your family agrees to give your child a phone for the right reasons.
How to make cell phones a success for your child
If you’ve decided your child is ready for a phone, that’s great! Now, the challenge is to make sure we work together to avoid the pitfalls we’ve already identified. For younger children especially, it can be incredibly helpful to sit down and create a contract or set of rules around using their smartphone so they know exactly how they should use their new technology. The American Academy of Pediatrics has some downloads that are helpful for creating technology contracts with children.
Needs-based, not age-based
Bill Gates says 14 is the “safest” age to give a child a cell phone. an older age than most parents, I don’t think that’s something we should put a number on.
If your child is 14 and walks home from school alone, or if they have a babysitting job that sometimes takes them away from home, or if they have a part-time job working away from home… then sure, that’s a good age for a cell phone. But if they’re never left alone, and are always in the care of an adult… do they need a phone? I do not believe. It’s something to think about.
Desires vs. Needs
Sure, they want a smartphone. They want all the bells and whistles like their friends have. BUT does a cell phone or smartphone fill a need, not just for your child but for you and your family as well? I remember telling one of my kids who was in fifth grade at the time and wanted a phone like their friends at school and his older siblings, “Look, you’re either at school or playing in the neighborhood. I can stand at the door and shout for you. (When they were older and played sports with practices that often got rained and transport had to be arranged, it was a different story…)
If you are a single mom working afternoons with a 5th grader at home from alone for an hour or two after school, they might really need a prepaid cell phone that can text and call so you both can stay in touch. They may not necessarily need a smartphone with apps and internet access. Expect pushback on this one! Lots of prepaid cell phones are pretty cool these days – they look great, take pictures, play music, one even has a dedicated button for Whatsapp.
Consider alternative solutions
Over time this question becomes more difficult to answer. 15 years ago, students didn’t need to know how to use a computer until they were in middle school. With the recent pandemic, we now have 3-year-olds using Zoom to access their pre-K classes. There’s even a market now where there are smartwatches that double as phones where kids can call a select group of people that the parent sets up. If we are discussing a solution where parents are able to control who is called and how it is used, there are advantages to giving this information in advance to get them used to the idea. As far as a fully featured smartphone goes, I wouldn’t give one of these until they are able to fully understand the responsibility of what it means to have the device.
Steven Brown, DP Electric Inc