Gift Lists: Cell Phones for Kids?
Especially at this gift-giving time of year, many parents might be questioning, just what age is “old enough” for a cell phone? Sure, smartphone technology seems to be part of everyday life. Yet concerns like the cost, data charges, cyberbullying, and possible access to inappropriate content on these hand-held computers can make many, including Santa, think twice.
According to the research firm Influence Central, today's average age for getting a first phone is 10.3 years old, down from age 12 in 2012. Author and New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler recently polled his social media followers, finding that most parents who responded gave their children their first phones in sixth or seventh grade, with a few holding out until high school.
Yalda T. Uhls, Ph.D, author of Media Moms & Digital Dads, A Fact Not Fear Approach to Parenting in the Digital Age, says there’s no “magic age” for cell phone ownership. Her advice: When you first give your child something that gives them unlimited access to the Internet and their friends, it is important to make it clear that you own the device, you pay for it, and if there is any behavior that you feel is not true to your family values, you can take it away.
Cell phones, while easy to use, require maturity and responsibility. Consider how your child keeps track of and takes care of his or her possesions (what’s left on the bus or often forgotten at home?), picks up on social cues, is technology savvy, and willing to accept limits. Boundaries (including when the phones are off and perhaps literally out of reach) are key. A study from the University of Basel, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, found that teenagers who kept their smartphones on at night were more likely to watch videos, text, and have poor sleep habits and higher depression.
Just as responsible adults would not drop off children on a busy street and say figure out how to get home, teaching digital citizenship is an important facet of social and emotional learning at school and at home. Consider these questions to "boot up" discussions at home and in the classroom:
Self-Awareness: What is your real motivation for wanting a cell phone? How will having your own cell phone make your life better? How might it make things more challenging?
Self-Management: What things might you be giving up by spending more time on your phone? What do you think is a reasonable limit for time spent on your phone each day?
Social Awareness: How might having a phone connect you to others? How is “talking” with someone via texting different than a face-to-face conversation?
Relationship Skills: What might be the difference between an online friend and a real friend? What groups, activities, or skills might you be interested in joining or developing by having your own cell phone?
Responsible Decision-Making: What are some of the important decisions that you will have to make to manage your cell phone use? Who can you reach out to for guidance? Who could be your role model?