It's hard to imagine getting by without a cell phone in this day and age. We use our cell phones to send and respond to work emails. We use them to meal plan and create grocery lists. We use them to take photos and keep in touch with loved ones. We even use our cell phones to pay bills and do banking. As a parent, the question becomes: "When should a kid get a phone?"
Cell Phones and Kids: By the Numbers
There are several reasons why parents get their children cell phones:
- Their children want them to communicate with their friends.
- To keep in touch with them throughout the day and have instant access in case of emergencies.
- Other kids at school have cell phones, and they don't want to risk being socially ostracized.
- To use educational apps and games.
- To encourage responsibility.
And while smartphones are so ingrained in our daily lives, they come with a dark side, as these statistics demonstrate:
- On average, cell phone users swipe, tap, and click 2,617 times every day.
- The suicide rate among teen girls increased by 65% between 2010 and 2015 (this increase coincides with increased cell phone usage).
- Cell phone usage is to blame for 26% of car accidents.
- 45% of teenagers report feelings of addiction to their smartphones.
Is it any wonder that the question of when a kid should get a cell phone is a significant one for parents to consider when their child begins to ask for one? Despite the inherent risks associated with smartphone usage, they can also help children become more independent, improve their social skills, and allow parents the peace of mind of being in regular contact with their kids.
Factors to Consider Around Cell Phones and Kids
Deciding when a kid should get a phone is a very personal and individual decision, but many children start asking for (and receiving) them in elementary school. If fellow students and friends have a phone at an early age, other children are more likely to follow suit. Many experts believe that there is no universal magical age for cell phone usage. Rather than focusing solely on the child's age, parents need to consider several other factors.
The Maturity Level of Your Child
Every child is different, so the question comes down to whether your child is emotionally and psychologically ready for the responsibility of owning a cell phone. Do they exercise good impulse control? Can they read social cues? If they struggle with picking up social cues in a live setting, their ability to pick up these same cues in a virtual setting could be hampered.
Your Relationship With Your Child
Getting your child their first cell phone is a big move. It will introduce a whole new world of information and access to them. Can you trust that your child will be honest with you about their digital interactions? If they become a victim of cyberbullying, will they open up to you and allow you to help mitigate the situation? If someone tries to make them do something inappropriate, will they get you involved? How have similar scenarios played out previously outside of the digital realm?
Assuming that you are buying your child a cell phone prior to them entering the workforce, this likely means that you are paying for the phone itself as well as the monthly phone bill. However, there may be an opportunity for them to contribute to the cost of the phone through their allowance or in exchange for doing chores. There are data fees to consider and the cost of apps and in-app purchases, all of which should be agreed to in advance of purchasing the phone.
A cell phone is no longer just a phone. It is a fully functional computer with many bells and whistles, including a built-in camera. Can your child be trusted to act prudently with a camera on hand at all times? Is their self-esteem strong enough to avoid the dangers of selfie culture? Cameras are great for capturing memories and expressing creativity, but a conversation is definitely in order around using the device in a healthy and appropriate manner.
How to Take the Cell Phone Leap Safely and Securely
Once you've asked, "When should a kid get a cell phone?" and decided that the time is now, many experts recommend instituting a parent-child contract, one that emphasizes that mobile phones are a privilege, not a right, and can be taken away at any time for any reason. Common elements of this type of contract include age-based guidelines around screen time limits (when they can use the phone — before going to bed, not at the dinner table or while doing homework), how it is used, the process for lost or damaged equipment, and rules of engagement around acceptable browsing and downloading activity.
Regarding security, 88% of parents know their children's cell phone password, and it is strongly recommended that any parent who is giving their child a cell phone know their password and use it to periodically audit and monitor how they are using the phone. This resource will help parents navigate the ever-evolving internet slang being used by teenagers to make sense of what they are reading.
And finally, the best step a parent can take in ensuring their child's safety in a technological world is to use technological tools, like the Kaspersky Total Security package. It's armed with family-friendly functionality like advanced parental controls, adult site blockers, screen time managers, GPS child locator … and it even includes tips from top child psychologists.
Smartphones can be beneficial. Finding ways to safely introduce them into your child's world as a true asset and resource, as opposed to a liability, will help them welcome this technology in a healthy and productive manner.