For parents, this is a frequently discussed topic in my office.
When IS the right time for my child to have a smartphone?
Unfortunately, there is no cookie cutter, cut-and-dry answer. As with everything, it has a lot of layers.
A survey by Sprint and the blog, Techlicious, revealed that, across wireless carriers, only 23% of parents feel comfortable giving their 9 – 12-year-old child a smartphone.
Also, 24% of dads felt it was OK to give their child a smartphone in elementary, while 41% of moms believe it’s best to wait until middle school.
A 2011 study of students in grades 3 through 12 in Massachusetts found that while 18-20% of 3rd graders had smartphones, that number nearly doubled to 39% in 5th grade.
Despite these figures, all the statistics in the world can’t replace what you think is best for your child. The factors that go into deciding when this right of passage will take place has more to do with his or her individual readiness and your family dynamic than just their age.
Advantages and Disadvantages
In today’s world, a cell phone is more than a voice communication device. Modern smartphones, like the iPhone or an Android phone, are portals to the entire world. While your child can explore the world (which can be a good thing), they are also exposed to the world (which may or may not be such a good thing).
Cyberbullying, Internet pornography, and cyber stalkers are all very real dangers that kids are exposed to through those little hand-held devices. Luckily, there’s a myriad of tools parents can use, many built into the device, to monitor and control what their child can access.
These are a few of the very real dangers, but what about the advantages?
If you child is in a situation where they are getting more independent and going places with friends or sports teams, he or she may need a phone to be able to communicate with you.
There are also some apps or services that can allow you to track your child (and/or their phone) and keep tabs on them. If you’re ever wondering if the made it to practice, are on their way home, or if they decided to take a self-imposed “field trip,” you can check!
Smart or Dumb Phone?
With a smartphone, your child has access to the Internet. However, you can still enable your child to have phone communication, but on a limited basis. There are apps available to help you monitor where they have been on the Internet.
Basic phones sometimes referred to as “dumb phones”, usually only have the capability to call and send/receive text messages. There is no Internet connection, and therefore no apps, games, or social media connections mitigating the risks of online harassment, or unwanted use. A phone like this may not be as cool as a smartphone in the eyes of your preteen, but concerning safety, it’s a great option.
It comes down to deciding as a parental team, “What is best for my child at this stage of their growth and development?”
If your child is mature and can follow boundaries and limitations, giving him or her a phone could be a positive experience. Start with asking yourself these questions.
- Are they mature enough to respect limits?
- Do they need a phone for safety reasons?
- Can they adhere to our guidelines and rules of use and checks and balances?
- Could a “dumb phone” or mobile device with only the very basic calling capability be more appropriate?
- Does your child have an acceptable level of social skills? Meaning, can they hold a simple face-to-face conversation? Do they treat adults and others with respect?
Tip: Remember, that as parents, we are not potted plants. You have every right to monitor your child’s cell phone usage. Obviously, as our kids get older, we will need to loosen the reigns as they naturally, and understandably, want more freedom than we are prepared to give when they are young.
But until that time arrives, it makes sense to monitor their phone smartphone activities including search histories in particular, until you feel that you trust them enough. And, of course, there are also apps you can download on your child’s phone to help you monitor all of this.
New Technology Is Here To Stay
We have all heard the debates about the next generations overuse of electronics. It’s a legitimate concern for many. But it is also the evolution of our society.
Smartphones, social media, tablets, computers – none of these things will go away, no matter how much we resist.
The ongoing question we will continue to ask is this: How do we weave these things into our lives in a healthy way?
I hope that this article has been helpful in making a determination as to whether or not to provide you child with a cell phone, smart or dumb. I love helping parents and their children navigate this topic with their families.
Nurturing an open, loving environment with appropriate boundaries is essential for long-term mental and emotional health and development. If you have any questions specific to your family circumstances, my office is a phone call away for any assistance you would like.