When you are a parent, sometimes you run into questions you just can’t answer. Since all kids are different, others can’t understand your situation, and Google will only throw you down a rabbit hole of paranoid, paralyzing terror, I am here to help you put things into perspective and receive some advice from the experts.
Without further ado, let us dive into the main section of the blog post. How old should my child be to get a phone? At first, most parents figure they should give their kids their first phones when they join high school. I mean, after all, that is when most of us got our first cellphones, right?
But the world is quite different today than it was 15 years ago. My Significant Other works at a high school and she has told me multiple times that children nowadays seem to have their first phones as early as middle school and some even earlier; with others getting them as young as seven. That sounds crazy, right? Or is it?
Right now, I am lucky. When my five-year-old son asks me for my phone, I simply pull out the old, trusty Elmo phone, and she will play with it while pretending to call Santa, the Cookie Monster, Grandma, or whoever.
I understand that this is only short-term, though. Soon enough, we will get to a point where she wants me to get her a smartphone because all her friends are using one. Or maybe I’ll have to consider giving her one because I am worried that I am not able to reach her when we are away from each other?
But when is that exactly?
Allow me to start by listing the benefits of ensuring your child has a phone, so my answer can make more sense to you.
The benefits of giving your child a phone
There is no doubt that a cell phone will make it easier for you to communicate with your child. During an emergency situation, a mobile phone might be critical in getting your child the help they require or keeping each other posted on something that is going to happen.
A cell phone will also offer a sense of security during such times, knowing you are only an SMS or call away from your child.
Whether they just want to know what you’re preparing for dinner or let you know that he/she will be home a bit late because the bus was late, you’ll never have to feel like you’re miles away from each other again.
- It is a learning tool
These days, a cell phone is not just a calling device anymore. It has evolved into a tool that one can use to access the entire world from one position. While there is a pretty good chance your child will use their cell phone for games, fun, social networks, or communication, they will also be in a position to use it for educational content relating to their school work, online learning, and online apps when the need arises.
You may be probably worried that they won’t be able to focus on anything else other than Pokémon Go and Facebook, but if you set clear guidelines regarding how and when they are allowed to use their cell phones and are taught it should only be used for communication and educational purposes, your kid may pleasingly astonish you.
- Nurturing Responsibility
I agree! You kid perhaps already has lots of things to be responsible for, and maybe you still have to remind him/her that he has to do his/her homework! But trust me, introducing your kid to the realm of cell phones may be a game changer for your kid’s independence.
Not only does your child have to physically take care of the phone in regards to ensuring it’s charged and avoiding damages, but it is also introducing financial responsibility early on so you can prepare them for the future.
Creating phone usage limits and crafting rules on things you will pay for and the extras they will have to pay for will nurture their money management skills as well as overall budgeting and appreciation.
So, here comes my expert advice
To begin with, “how old should my child be before they get a phone?” is the wrong question to be asking. I am confident that a better approach is to do away with this age thing and start approaching the issue from an angle of “where are your kids in their social relationships and maturity?
I would start by finding how well my kids manage their friendships with others. Are they stable with their friends? Or are they more sensitive and more vulnerable?
With my nine-year-old daughter, for example, if a friend says anything negative about her, she quickly misinterprets it as a personal insult. There is room for a lot of misperception to go on at her age because her maturity is not developed. It is also very much at the whim of social psychology and social pressures.
If I were to introduce a cell phone into this situation, I will only create more opportunities for misunderstanding because, as we know, online is not a reciprocal communication.
Even as adults, we at times have a hard time when we receive emails and text messages lacking the correct punctuation, but at least, we have the ability to say, “Maybe I am reading too much into this text.”
We do that because we comprehend the limitation of this mean of communication, but even we all can get bothered or pissed off by it. This implies that to expect your ten-year-old kid to comprehend these complexities is just unfair.
Taking that information into account, I believe the maturity level of a middle school child is utterly counter to him/her being capable of interacting digitally. I prefer to lean more toward the high school level of maturity.
I won’t give a precise age, but all I will say is that for most, if not all kids, middle school is one of the worst levels of adolescence for them to navigate their friendships, so I would like to think they will be able to handle things better in high school.
In the past, I have seen a lot of parents caving in and opting to give their kids smartphones by the time they turn age ten. My brother also caved in when his kids were in middle school because he found it stressful every time he was late to pick them up from school and could not get in touch with them to let them know what was going on.
This is totally a valid reason to cave in; but here is the thing. The moment you embark on a journey down that road, even if you just get them a flip phone, there is no turning back. In fact, it transforms into a cycle of “the next big thing.”
And trust me, for most parents, this is a path that there is probably no returning from, so making an informed decision regarding when you are going to embark on the journey down that path is very crucial.
Dangers of getting your kid a smartphone
Whenever you opt to get your child a smartphone, it is essential that you communicate to them the dangers of having one. There are already dangers with narcissism and self-esteem when it comes to social media. These issues are hard enough for young people and social media platforms have made it even harder.
Cyberbullying, without a doubt, is another risk. What has made bullying even worse is the fact children today cannot run away from it. In the past, one would be able to run home and stay away from the school bullies, but today, with social media platforms and texting, your child’s bully may be with them all the time. But also ensure your child is not the bully in this case.
There is also violet or sexual content. A smartphone will undoubtedly give your kid freedom and the constant opportunity to access the internet. On the other hand, with our inability to control the content they are viewing on their phones outside the home Wi-Fi, kids are more likely to get exposed to violent or sexual content.
This can be the common sexting, where your child receives messages or images containing sexual content. Your child may not even understand that if a friend sends them something inappropriate, they may also get in trouble if they keep it on their phones. Ensure you discuss all these risks with your child beforehand.
So, at what age should you give your kid their first cell phone? There is no right or wrong answer to the question. You should make your decision independent of stats and the average age. Just consider your child’s maturity and awareness of social and cyber safety.
Remember that even though the online realm seems like a dark place to be, with the right guidance and information, you can transform it into a realm of opportunities for your kid.