Should your child have a cell phone?

My kids love electronic devices. With Daddy being a software developer, our house has seen its share of devices, from iPhones to iPads to Macbooks, AppleTVs to digital cameras, scanners, printers, Wii game consoles—you name it. All three of my kids are very comfortable and proficient at using electronics, and yet, none of them has a cell phone.

It’s not because they haven’t asked. My boys, ages five and seven, dream of the day they will have their own phone. They even beg their grandfather for one. I think he may have bought us some time by marking their height on the wall and then marking a much higher line above it. “That line,” he said. “When you reach that line, you can get a cell phone.”

The Bad News

Allowing your child to have a cell phone is a big decision. Not only are cell phones expensive, but they are also a big responsibility. Have you considered the facts of your child having a cell phone?

First off, a cell phone is really a small computer they can take anywhere. Your kids may want it only to play games on for now, but the truth is, cell phones can do much more than that. In addition to making phone calls, you can use a cell phone to surf the web and play YouTube videos just like you can on your at-home computer. Your child can listen to music, watch movies, and even access TV channels these days. A phone gives your child the ability to text his/her friends and also take and text photos. That’s a lot for a child, isn’t it? In my home, we monitor what our children watch and listen to regularly. When you consider getting your child a cell phone, keep in mind you may not always be around when he/she uses it. Are you ready to give your child all these liberties?

The main issue that concerns me is social media. I myself am uncomfortable with mediums like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Sometimes I feel like I share too much personal information. While social media is a great way to keep up with friends from all stages of life, we all have friends on who share inappropriate things. As an adult I find it difficult to judge how much and what I should share. Imagine what that would be like for a child. How can he or she know what is appropriate to post? Children are not mature enough to know or understand, in my opinion.

Next is the issue of cyberbullying. Kids may type horrible things about others and share them on social media. They can send mean comments through texts. Some things that would be difficult to do or say in public are now very easy to do while hiding behind a screen. Being a bully is a whole new ballgame. Keep in mind your child could either be on the receiving end of this or be the one doing the bullying.

While I’m not blaming cell phones directly, their use has led to many preventable deaths. A recent case of cyber bullying here in San Antonio led to the death of a young student. The student was affected so much by what was shared he took his own life. In another situation, a student texted something inappropriate, immediately regretted it, and killed himself. This leads me to another important point here: Once you say or post something on the internet, it’s permanent. Kids do not understand the implication of this.

Another issue that’s not unheard of for youngsters is sexting. Sexting is texting nude photos or sexual content. As a parent, I think this is inappropriate. Recently a high school girl sent her boyfriend a photo that he promised to keep private. He didn’t. Now she is dealing with the embarrassment and shame that comes with that.

There are also sexual predators out there waiting to find our children. Be aware of this.

Please consider these things when you decide whether your child should have a cell phone. Without teaching my kids what is appropriate I would be very hesitant to give them this freedom.

The Good News

Although I don’t love the idea of my children having cell phones, I don’t live under a rock. I know they will get them someday. I do agree that cell phones can be good when kids are taught how to use them appropriately.

I’ll be especially willing to get my child a cell phone when it benefits our family for them to have one. The day will come when my kids are older and involved in activities after school. Maybe their soccer practice will wrap up sooner than expected and they will need me to pick them up early. Maybe I’ll be caught in traffic and running late. A quick text would be helpful in these situations.

I also understand they may want to talk to their friends. How many of us had our parents put in second landlines when we were growing up for this very reason? Talking with your friends on the phone is good, healthy fun. It would be especially helpful if your kids and their friends discussed their science homework, wouldn’t it?

When your child is in higher grades, a little handheld computer can also be helpful in school. A cell phone’s web browser can help kids do their school work. Some schools are actually embracing the fact that students have cell phones and using them to their advantage. (On the flip side, studies have shown that some kids text or browse social media in class, too, so they may also be off task and learning less.)

Finally, the day will come when our children will reach ages of freedom. They will probably drive themselves to school, have part-time jobs, and maybe even date! When that time comes, I definitely want them to have a cell phone so that I can stay in touch with them. I’d like to call or text them to continue to develop and grow in our relationship. What a gift to be just a call or text away.

Is your child ready?

I’ve shared some pros and cons that come with kids having cell phones. You will probably decide to let your child have a cell phone someday like I will. Here are my thoughts on when to do this.

Most people make the mistake of deciding when to get their kids a cell phone based on their age. I disagree with this. My child’s age will not determine when she gets a phone. Instead, I’ll decide based on how ready she is. In my opinion, age does not equal responsibility. My children are different, and they may be ready at different ages. Ask yourself these questions when determining if your child is ready for a cell phone:

  • Is he/she trustworthy?
  • Is he/she responsible with his/her belongings?
  • Does he/she lose things easily?
  • Does he/she follow general rules I’ve set for him/her?
  • Do I think he/she will follow the rules of having a cell phone?
  • Is he/she mature enough to handle the things he/she will be exposed to?

If you’ve answered yes to these questions, your child may be ready for a cell phone. Congratulations!

Do you just hand the phone over now? Nope. You can’t do that without rules or expectations. You wouldn’t just give them the keys to a car and set them free, would you? Having a cell phone is a privilege, and there are rules to be followed.

You, as the parent, have an important role to play. You should teach your child the rules and etiquette to be followed. You must monitor what they do on their phones constantly. Most importantly, it is your job to keep them safe and to teach them safe cell phone habits. There are far too many risks associated with phones. Be informed and protect your precious children from predators and other dangers out in cyberworld.

Join me in Part Two of this post: Your child has a cell phone. Now what?

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