Everyone has a cell phone these days. And by everyone, I mean your eighty-nine-year-old grandmother and your nine-year-old child. Not surprisingly, the issue of kids and cell phones is a hot topic these days, with everyone from mommy bloggers to the New York Times weighing in on when a child is old enough to have a phone, which phones are best for kids, and how to make sure your child isn’t abusing his phone privileges.
How old is old enough?
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician based in Seattle, recommends waiting until a child is at least 11 or 12 years old before giving him or her a cell phone (NYT). But a YouthBeat survey from 2012 “found that 13% of children ages 6 to 10 already own one” (TIME).
Often, the answer of whether or not to hand over a cell phone depends on your child, and your living situation. If your child is more mature than others her age, has a strong sense of personal responsibility, and have a strong desire for a cell phone, than she may deserve the privilege of owning one. If your child needs to call for rides often or walks home alone by himself, then he may need one.
Owning a cell phone–especially a smartphone–comes with a lot of responsibilities, such as the responsibility to not stay up all night texting friends. Or surfing inappropriate sites on the internet. Or sexting. For kids and teens, whose impulse control is less well developed, a cell phone can open up all kinds of larger problems, such as sleep deprivation, cyber-bullying and social isolation.
Laying down the law
Janell Burley Hofmann, mother of a 13-year-old son, gave him an iPhone–accompanied by a contract that specifically lays out the rules of phone ownership, in hopes of preventing any cell phone-related problems before they occurred. Here’s an excerpt from her no-nonsense list of terms and conditions, found on the Huffington Post:
1. It is my phone. I bought it. I pay for it. I am loaning it to you. Aren’t I the greatest?
2. I will always know the password.
3. If it rings, answer it. It is a phone. Say hello, use your manners. Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads “Mom” or “Dad.” Not ever.
4. Hand the phone to one of your parents promptly at 7:30 pm every school night and every weekend night at 9:00 pm.
5. It does not go to school with you.
And so on, all the way up to number 18. Laying down specific rules in writing is a great way to let your child know what kind of expectations you have for their phone use. Even cell phone providers, such as T-Mobile, provide articles that talk about the importance of setting limits for children using cell phones and have developed services to help limit what your child can and cannot do on his or her phone.
What do you think?
How old should a child be before he or she gets a cell phone? What kinds of rules or guidelines have worked in your home in regards to cell phone use? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo: Dome Poon/flickr