How Old Is Old Enough for Your Kids to Have Cell Phones, Smart Devices?

How Old Is Old Enough for Your Kids to Have Cell Phones, Smart Devices?

A growing number of the 90 % of North Americans who own cell phones are children under age 18. Parents far and wide grapple with the question: ‘How young is too young for a cellphone?’ It’s a question that, ultimately, parents must decide for themselves, but having at least a few guidelines to help might not be a bad idea. Especially this Holiday Season when kids are going to be clamouring for a phone, tablet, or other smart gadget.

Chances are, once you read this, your decisions for Christmas giving are already done, but this isn’t the only time kids hit their parents up for phones. After the break is done and they go back to school and see all the phones their friends might have gotten? An upcoming birthday? Next spring when they start trading information to keep in touch with friends during the summer? Those are all going to be ‘cell phone beg time.’.

=== First, Age Is Not Determined By Years.

Some 11-year olds are older (more mature) than others. A cell phone at this age might seem too early judging only by years, but in some circumstances, that tween might actually be just about the right age to responsibly use a simple (non-Internet ready) phone. Especially if your child spends a lot of his or her time alone as a latchkey kid or because of scheduling and after school activities like band or sports.

By the same token, some 15-year-olds are not nearly as old as their years. If your teenager is a lot less responsible than you think he or she should be (realistically), then a cell phone, especially one with Internet access, is definitely not going to be a winning situation. Better to wait.

The best advice, I think, is to wait as long as possible before caving in and getting that phone. The phone itself shouldn’t be a ‘present’ either, in my mind. Accessories for it (pink cases, better batteries, etc.) can be, but the phone itself should be presented as a tool, not a toy. Yes, your child is probably going to become text-crazy – it goes with the territory. Clear and specific rules about the phone’s use and how it can be taken away if need be should be set.

Again, the more mature your child is, the more likely he or she will do well with a phone. A cell phone is a symbol of your trust and the maturity level you believe your child has. Make sure they realize that violating that will not be punished with simple measures – the phone is entirely temporary.

=== What the Phone Is For.

Some safety concerns that the phone can alleviate are possible, of course, but I personally think that these are largely overblown. Yes, payphones are hard to find nowadays, but phones themselves are not. So the excuse that your child ‘can’t call home’ is just an excuse. What the phone should really be for is to increase your ability to communicate with your child and to allow them some freedom – but freedom that you can both contain and monitor.

Yes, it sounds Orwellian, but really, parents who let their teenagers go without a tether are just begging for trouble. No matter how ‘good’ the kid is. Trouble happens. Most phones can have backup features installed that also allow you, as the parent and account holder, to access call logs, the phone’s contact list, and even text histories – all without access to the phone itself, but from the Web.

A parent who gives a phone to their child and doesn’t check these things is shirking responsibility. As the child matures and the phone becomes a more normal thing for them to have, then this monitoring can relax or stop altogether. The way I see it, if you trust your child with your car, you should trust that they aren’t abusing their phone too.

== The Family ‘Loaner’ Phone.

At $10 a month for an additional, cheap, mostly feature-less phone for the family plan, it’s not a bad idea to have one. No matter your child’s age, this phone can be given out on an as-needed basis so that they can easily contact you. Your daughter’s first slumber party? The phone, so she can call for any reason, might be a good idea. Movies alone with her friends? Another good occasion.

These phones can be given and removed just like house keys or special privileges. If the phone isn’t always his, he won’t give the number to his friends so they can text and call all the time. This is a good compromise that will abate any real arguments a youngster might have for needing a cell phone at an early age.

Again, everything is subjective. Your family might make decisions for different reasons and a cell phone to your child might be different than another. The decisions are ultimately for parents to make, but I hope that the above has helped as a general guideline to give you something to think about.

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