Is my child ready for a cell phone?
By the time they’re in middle school, most kids are begging for a cell phone. They’ve seen their friends using them on the bus or at school and they just HAVE TO HAVE ONE. Parents might like the idea for safety reasons, but when is a child ready for a cell phone and the responsibilities that go with it? Pediatrician Blakely Amati, MD, explained what parents need to know.
Weigh the pros and cons of kids and cell phones
“Giving a child a cell phone is a big step, because you’re giving them a lot of responsibility and freedom,” Dr. Amati said. “It’s also a big financial commitment for your family.”
Being able to get in touch with each other while kids are traveling to and from school, activities or between households is helpful, but it can also be a huge new distraction and (potentially) a source of social drama.
“A good bridge to a cell phone may be a smartwatch where you can pre-program in a few key contacts,” Dr. Amati said. “Your child can be reached, or they can call from the smartwatch. You can also use GPS to see where your child is.”
When are children ready for a cell phone?
If you’re still leaning toward getting a cell phone for your child, the American Academy of Pediatrics teamed up with AT&T to offer a decision tool.
Dr. Amati recommended that families take the time to sit down and create a family media plan together.
Here are some highlights of what families can ask themselves:
Why does your child want a cell phone? What are they hoping to get out of it? More contact with caregivers or is it to have more opportunity to socialize and play games?
How responsible is the child? Are they responsible not only for their own belongings but for others’ as well? How responsible are they for their actions? When they make a mistake, do they admit to it and talk through it, or do they hide? How impulsive are they?
How would you monitor usage? Talk to your child about having their phone turned off during school hours and consider having them charge the phone in a shared space in your house (like the kitchen) overnight so they’re not accessing it and disrupting their sleep. You can also find apps to help with monitoring and parental controls.
“It’s important to think about ways you can check in periodically,” Dr. Amati said. “Find out what group chats they’re in. What’s the latest texting lingo or combination of emojis they’re using to communicate with their friends? What games and apps are they using and what are they reading about on their phone?”
Does the child know how to be a good citizen online? How can they practice kindness and empathy and not be a cyberbully? Do they understand that everything that happens online is permanently in cyberspace, and that it’s important to make good decisions?
Do you have screen-free zones? Setting up screen-free times and screen-free zones in your house helps create time and space for families to be together without the distraction of devices.
There are also decisions to be made about the apps and content they’re allowed to access, including social media.
“It’s a lot to think about, but we need to know how to help our children stay safe on their phones,” Dr. Amati said.
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