Should children have cell phones? It depends.
Should children have cell phones? This is the question that every modern parent ends up asking. For practical purposes though, when it comes to kids and cell phones, there are actually several questions you should ask yourself first:
Why should children have phones?
Do I need an emergency phone for children?
What other communication devices for kids might do the trick?
Would alternatives to smartphones be a better choice?
Then you could ask yourself follow-up questions such as when should a child get a phone if you decide they need one.
As I often remind families as a futurist, parent, and author of “Parenting High-Tech Kids,” there isn’t always a compelling reason to put a smartphone in the hands of a child. However, smart technology can open the door to all kinds of wonderful apps and games for kids, as well as a wealth of useful connections and information. It also means having to prepare children for the challenges that online connectivity and communications often bring.
Considering a few specific things can help you determine why (or why not) your kids should have phones, and whether various smartphone alternatives present a better option.
When should children have cell phones?
First things first: it’s important to know that there is no universally accepted age at which experts say children should have cell phones. A good rule of thumb is 13, and that presents a good general baseline to work from. However (and this is a big one however), of course, parents will have to make this decision themselves, depending on the maturity of the child and other factors.
Here are some important points to consider and questions to ask yourself when considering whether your children should have cell phones:
How mature and responsible are your children?
How well have you prepared them to react to questionable exchanges or controversial content they might encounter online?
Do you need a child communication device or a child emergency phone for convenience?
Is there a compelling reason to put a cell phone in your child’s hands right now, or would you be better off waiting a little longer?
It’s also important to remember: before bringing any high-tech device into your home, it’s essential to establish rules and guidelines governing its use and the content that is appropriate to consume and share. This means taking the time to clarify with your children how much screen time they will have access to on a daily basis:
Will screen time be earned or given away?
When and where to use communication devices for children
Whether phones need to be turned off at certain times of the day, such as an hour before bedtime and during breakfast or dinner
Additionally, you’ll want to make it clear that your door is always open as a parent if your kids encounter questionable content or exchanges online. You will also want to clarify what the consequences will be if your household rules are broken and under what circumstances privileges will be reclaimed.
Why should a child have a phone?
The answer depends on when you feel they are ready for it, or when there is a compelling reason to suggest they really need such a device for safety or schooling purposes. From a practical point of view, this generally means that when your children start participating in extracurricular activities and camps, when they need to contact you remotely when they are playing at friends’ houses, or when they are otherwise largely outside of your direct supervision or accessibility, such as walking to class. Likewise, when determining whether kids should have cell phones, you’ll want to consider adding a parental control app, such as Smart Family, if they need online access to information, apps, or websites to help them with their classes, their homework and their learning.
Keep in mind that introducing various child communication devices into your home also means that you need to commit to doing your homework as a parent, as these devices and apps and their respective capabilities are constantly changing. Additionally, you should strive to actively work with your children to instill positive high-tech habits on a daily basis, such as learning to put the devices down while conversing with other family members or at a certain time each evening. On the bright side, as I’ve observed in my own home, children and cell phones can often be a winning combination. This is because children have boundless curiosity. As an always-on, always-ready gateway to a wealth of online information and activity, smartphones can expose them to a wealth of positive interactions and experiences…as well as new ideas, information and people. .
That said, giving a child a cell phone does mean exposing them to the vast virtual world as a whole. Just as you wouldn’t send them out to play in the neighborhood without telling them about the potential dangers to be aware of and instilling good safety habits, you’ll need to prepare them in advance before they play in the digital world. Remember: technology is just another learning and communication tool, and like any tool, it is important to know how to use it responsibly in order to enjoy a positive and uplifting experience.
What to get your child instead of a phone
Not ready for your kids to have cell phones yet? It is perfectly understandable. Parents of young children, in particular, may want to consider the many smartphone alternatives for kids.
For example, a number of child-friendly cell phones are specially designed to help you communicate and keep an eye on your child while setting limits on their online access and limiting unwanted communications. Many popular offerings offer extensive parental controls — or eliminate web browsers and app stores altogether — allowing you to control screen time, filter out age-inappropriate content, and ban access to unwanted apps or websites. Many devices also allow you to pre-program the contacts of friends and family members into the handset and restrict communications to these people. Several models also use geolocation and GPS capabilities to allow you to track children’s movements and limit Internet access to pre-approved apps and services.
A variety of wearable smartwatches, like the GizmoWatch, can also provide peace of mind by allowing young children to call, video chat, or text directly from their wrist. Several kids’ wearables allow for to-do lists and daily reminders, such as “Don’t forget to meet Dad for the pick-up after art class at 4 p.m.!” at their fingertips.
Of course, many families looking to pick up an emergency phone for kids may also consider outfitting them with older flip phone models that either lack extensive internet connectivity and app features or lack cameras and videoconferencing capabilities. Or they can send kids to school with devices whose connectivity is limited to talk and calls only. Keep in mind that there are myriad alternatives to smartphones for kids, the majority of which: (a) introduce useful high-tech training wheels or (b) let you set up parental controls that limit what children can do, how far they can go online and who they can communicate with.
Answering the question of when a child should get a phone often becomes easier when you realize you don’t have to delve into the depths of telecommunications technology right off the bat. If you’re looking to help kids get their feet wet and comfortable with high-tech devices before moving on to more comprehensive systems, you can buy handheld GPS trackers with touchscreen speakers and SOS help buttons that you can send to children. at school with as an alternative to smartphones or tablets.
So the good news is that you don’t have to worry much. If you think your child is too young to have a cell phone, a variety of high-tech tools are ready to help you stay more connected with your kids at every turn.
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