When Is The Best Time For My Kids To Own A Phone?
I was recently asked by a Savvy Surfer reader when is the best time to allow your child to own a mobile phone. The answer is in many ways a rather unsatisfactory “it depends”. It is widely accepted that there is no real ‘best’ age that is appropriate for each and every child to own a mobile. In fact, it really does depends upon the individual child and their maturity level when assessing a child’s readiness for the responsibility of owning a mobile device.
Inevitably, the day will come when your young teen (or maybe even, tween) will approach you asking for their own phone, usually with the added plea that “all my friends have one!” While it might be tempting to simply state “no” without considering the request more seriously, it will be a lot easier if you say “not yet.” Give a reasonable explanation why you feel they are not yet mature enough to handle the responsibility and let them know what behaviour they need to demonstrate to you in order to be able to turn that “no” into a “yes”.
Times have definitely changed since I was a child! I was in my early twenties by the time I owned my first mobile phone. I only bought because it was essential for my particular work purposes and I was one of the few people to have a mobile phone at that time. It was about the size of a brick with very limited capabilities! I could (only just) make and receive calls, when I could find mobile reception. This usually meant standing at the bottom of our garden on the bench in all types of English weather! There was limited texting functionality, (but then who was I going to text anyway?) and there was definitely no camera facility or internet access!
A few years later my much younger sister owned a phone by the time she was around the age of 10. She recalls that she used it mainly for “texting, calls and playing a few games” but she couldn’t use the internet on it and she was only allowed pay-as-you go billing. This meant she was able to keep in touch with friends and family for safety reasons. Ultimately, she was still fairly limited in what she was able to do with her phone and therefore didn’t use it all that much.
Fast forward to now, and recent research shockingly reveals that more children between the age of 7 and 16 have a mobile than those that own books. A large percentage of those phones are smartphones now with even a small proportion of children as young as 4 or 5 year old owning smartphones, potentially giving them access to the internet, games and apps.
Giving your child a phone is a great way to make sure that you can contact them easily if you need to, therefore parents tend to be quick to give in to the notion that giving their child a phone is an absolute necessity for safety reasons. Ultimately, however, it comes down to so much more than your child’s age and you need to be certain that your child is ready for this responsibility.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits as well as some of the downsides of giving your child a phone
Benefits of Letting Your Child Have Their Own Mobile Phone
Safety & Convenience
Mobile phones are a great way for you to stay in touch with your child, and vice versa. Not only does it mean that you can both communicate with one another about your plans, but it can also just make you feel better knowing if there is any emergency you or your child can get in touch. In fact, I would posit that if your child is out of easy reach and may need to get in contact with you, for any reason, then having access to a phone would actually be a necessity.
Teaching Your Child About Responsibility
Owning a phone can be a great way to educate your child about taking care of their possessions. It can also teach them about the importance of budgeting. More importantly, it can be a great conversation starting point around responsible use and expectations of using the Internet.
While we want to be sure that our children can handle the responsibility that comes with having a mobile phone, we don’t want to place our children at a disadvantage either. Many children use social media, messaging and texting to make plans with their friends. We need to ask ourselves if we feel our child is missing out on activities and plans with their friends. Not having a phone can be a reason why a child is exposed to bullying behaviours. Educating children to stand up for themselves and learning about to communicate bullying behaviour to their parents and teachers, some children could experience bullying for not having a phone (or even the “latest” phone, gadget, etc.)
Once upon a time, mobile phones could be a great expense – it wasn’t just the phone itself but calls, in particular, were pricey and there were not so many phone providers and different calling plans available as there is now. Today, with the ability to restrict calling and with many different pay-as-you-go calling plans, it is not so easy for children to rack up an expensive phone bill anymore. An added bonus is that it may even reduce your landline telephone bill, as your child would rather use their own phone to speak to their friends. I can vouch for being one of those teens who used to spend long hours talking to my friends on the phone – even after spending all day talking to them at school!
Potential Downsides to Your Child Having Their Own Mobile Phone
Conversely, while your child might be teased or even bullied for not actually having a phone, once you give your child access to a phone, this could potentially open them up to the online world of bullying – or cyberbullying, as it’s known.
Unfortunately, cyberbullying is a common occurrence; one that is growing and with many child suicides linked to cyberbullying, the results can be tragic. So before you hand over a phone to your kids, I would encourage you to open a dialogue about the dangers of the Internet and Social Media and specifically what your expectations are regarding phone use. Look at some real life stories of cyberbullying and how it has affected the victims, make a contract with your child so that they have to agree to certain rules of use. If your child isn’t ready to talk about these issues, then they are definitely not ready to have a phone!
A phone is much more than just a phone these days! Having access to a phone also gives your child access to Social Media, the Internet, Games, Apps. It’s hard to monitor everything your child does online and many children don’t realise the dangers involved with sharing information with others.
Online predators can pose as friends and get hold of personal information that they shouldn’t have from unsuspecting children. Even children who are aware of not giving information to others, can accidentally give their location details away to others by leaving their GPS settings turned on.
Recent research has found that many more teenagers than we realise also participate in “sexting” – including sending nude selfies. This can lead to blackmail, bullying and even worse.
Calls may not be as costly as they once were, but there are a number of other costs that you might come up against! What about the child who pesters you for the latest upgrade of their phone because all of their friends have it? What happens when they use up all of their credit in the first week of the month?
You might also want to consider how your child treats their other belongings before deciding whether to give them a phone. Do they regularly break or lose their things? If so, you can be sure that giving them a phone will just be another thing for them to lose – and that you have to replace for them!
Mobile phone overuse has been shown to decrease social interaction, affect sleep in children, leading to obesity and poor academic performance at school.
So now you have more information about the pros and cons of getting your child a mobile phone to make your decision. In case you are still on the fence about getting your child a mobile phone, here are some things to consider that might help you to make up your mind.
- It is still possible to get phones without cameras, internet access, games and even the ability to text. If you are in any doubt but feel that your child needs to be in contact, then why not get them a basic phone model with limited capabilities or turn off those features you don’t want them to have access to. You can even provide a phone that only dials your number for emergency purposes initially, until you feel they can handle the responsibility.
- Arm yourself with knowledge. Understand how to use your child’s phone yourself – read the manual and get to know how to use their phone so that you can monitor their usage if you should need to.
- Get them a prepaid phone so that you can also limit their call time and number of texts. If your child goes over the amount of agreed calls and texts, consider making them responsible for the cost of extra minutes. Opt for a plan feature that lets you monitor mobile phone usage.
- Block internet usage and/or numbers that you don’t want them to make calls to or receive calls from.
- Set the rules and boundaries from the start – and stick to them! This might include times when the phone must be turned off. Examples to think about might be during meal times, during school, when doing their homework, at bedtime and whilst driving – see next point! (note that the recommended screen time for children from age 2 -18 is only 2 hours)
- It’s worth repeating – if your teen is a driver, they should not text while driving!
- Don’t allow mobile phones or any other devices into your children’s bedrooms at night – as already mentioned, this can result in disturbed sleep with a knock-on negative effect on school performance.
- They should always answer parental calls or texts immediately or as soon as they are received – and should never answer calls or texts from those people they do not know.
- I would also suggest using in-built parental controls or special software at this stage to block inappropriate sites and stop children from being able to text or phone any numbers other than those you approve.
- Teach them to treat others respectfully online and how to respond to online bullying, whether the victim or an onlooker.
- My last point is about you! Follow these rules for yourself too. If you want your children to use technology appropriately, then you need to model the behaviour you would like to see. If your child sees you constantly on the phone, they will take your lead and see this as the right way to interact. If you text or call people while driving, the same! It’s absolutely up to you to teach them how to use their mobile phone respectfully.
I would love to hear from you with your thoughts about this topic. When do you think the right age is to buy your child a mobile phone? Have you bought your own child a mobile phone? What age were they? What sort of rules did you put in place? Have you had any problems with your child’s mobile phone usage? Please leave your comments below!
Happy Savvy Surfing