Is Your Child Ready for a Cell Phone?

Tips to guide parents in their decision-making.

Is Your Child Ready for a Cell Phone?

Image(s) licensed by Ingram Publishing

Only a decade ago, it was the rare parent who considered giving a child a cell phone. Fast forward to 2014, and it’s the rare tween or teen who doesn’t have a mobile communication device at her fingertips. In Canada, young people ages 13 to 24 are the largest group of wireless phone users, according to a recent survey by Media Smarts.

The organization notes on its website that, “For parents, cell phones are an easy and practical way to stay connected to and keep tabs on their kids while giving them independence. But for young people, cell phones are much more than a tool for chatting with mom or dad – they’re an essential part of their social lives.”

In light of current cultural norms, the question for most parents has become when, not whether, to get their child a phone. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a slew of options to weigh. The following steps can help guide your decision-making process.

Clarify your reasons. Most parents cite safety reasons for giving their child a phone. Like the hitching post of bygone days, the pay phone is now a relic of the past. Many parents feel more secure knowing their child can call when a need arises.

Parents who work outside the home say that mobile phones have helped family members stay connected. Starlene Evans has a 14-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. She says safety is the main reason she’s given her daughter a phone, but she also enjoys the contact with her kids. “I text with my daughter all the time and we exchange pictures. My son…will send me short texts while I’m at work and it makes him proud and that makes me smile.”

Set the rules. Make your expectations crystal clear before giving your child a phone. Decide when and where your child can use her phone, and who will pay for it.

Is your child generally trustworthy and conscientious? Jane Lanigan, an associate professor in human development, advises parents to “think about whether their child is…ready for the responsibility of having a phone. This includes the ability to keep track of the phone and follow the guidelines the family establishes.”

Even if you conclude that your child doesn’t yet exhibit the behaviour and maturity required to be cell phone successful, you will have established a baseline set of expectations that can be revisited.

Let the phone grow with your child. Your child’s first phone doesn’t need to be a smartphone with all the bells and whistles. In fact, Alex Bolokhovskiy, manager at a computer supply and repair outlet, says, “When kids start off with an expensive smartphone, they don’t see it as being a privilege. It ends up costing the parents a lot of money when the phone is damaged or lost. Parents could save money by having the kids earn their way to an upgrade.”

He suggests starting with a basic phone with limited text and talk time and no data. Let your tween show you he can handle increasing responsibility, and save the smartphone for later.

Monitor and set limits. After your child has a phone, you’ll need to oversee her use of the device. Some parents are reluctant to “spy” on their kids’ social networking lives. A child’s need for privacy is often cited as the reason for this hands-off approach. However, R. Bradley Snyder, an expert in child psychology, would disagree. In his book, The 5 Simple Truths of Raising Kids, he states that while kids need opportunities for private reflection, “none of this is the job of a social network, which, by definition, is a public forum.”

Parents need to set parameters regarding type, content, and amount of communication, and kids need to be held accountable for breaking the rules. Many parents require their kids to apprise them of account passwords, and do random checks of their phones. Evans says she no longer allows her daughter to have a Twitter account, after a check revealed inappropriate posts. Lanigan adds that, “Formalizing the guidelines in writing may be helpful for some families.”

Ask questions and listen. Many parents are overwhelmed at the thought of monitoring their child’s online life. Sensational stories about cyberbullying, online predators, and sexting emerge daily from the media. And with the ever-changing array of social networking options, last year’s advice to “become your child’s friend on Facebook” seems frustratingly quaint. Yet, as Snyder emphasizes, changes in technology do not mean that the emotional needs of our tweens and teens are any different. They still need parents to guide them, help build confidence, and support them.

So yes, find out what you can about the newest in social media and other sites frequented by teens and tweens. (Snapchat, Instagram and Vine are but a few.) Then start a discussion with your child: What do you like about this site? Is it doing what you’d hoped? Ask about your child’s interactions with friends, both on and offline.

Evans says that she and her daughter “have conversations about respectful behaviour, text etiquette and how anything you type and post can be used against you.” She adds, “What works is just talking about stuff as it comes up, whether it comes up in the circle of friends, on the news, whatever. Just talk.”

Be a good role model. Today, young drivers in Canada ages 16-20 are at high risk of cell phone-related collisions, as surveys show that up to 80% admit to texting while driving. Do you use your cell phone while driving with your kids? What you show your kids is just as important as what you tell them.

Are you constantly checking your phone for messages while in conversation with others? Do you make cashiers wait while you finish a call? “Parents should pay attention to where and when they use their cell phones,” says Lanigan. When you use your phone safely and responsibly, you help your child to develop those habits as well.

Rules: The Starting Lineup Answer calls/texts from parents

  • Turn off phone at bedtime and charge it outside the bedroom. (Tweens and teens need their sleep!)
  • No texting or posting pictures of anything you would not say or do face-to-face.
  • Do not lend your phone to others, except in an emergency.
  • Never use your phone while driving.
  • Do not post your phone # on social networking sites.
  • Allow random unannounced checks of your phone by parents.

Discuss Ethical and Social Issues

  • Help your kids understand that cell phones are not private.
  • Set passwords and device locks in case their phones are lost or stolen.
  • Explain that once an image or text message has been sent from their phones, they have no control over who it might be forwarded to next.
  • Encourage kids to practise critical thinking and ethical behaviour
  • Do they respect their friends’ phones? Would they “borrow” someone else’s to play a prank on them?
  • What criteria do they use to decide whether to share or send a video or photo? If they feel pressured or uncomfortable, that’s usually a good indication that they shouldn’t.
  • Talk about cyberbullying and review what they should do if they are targets or witnesses.
  • Most importantly, let them know that they can come to you for help if things go wrong.

Source: Media Smarts,


Author: Ashley Talmadge

Ashley Talmadge is a freelance writer and the mother of two tech-savvy boys.

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