By Stephanie Cook Broadhurst / The Mother List
For months, your child has been pleading for a cellphone. Everyone else has one, except me, he laments. “Mom, Pleeaasse!” It’s a hot topic in schoolyards across America: When is a child old enough — or responsible enough — to have a cellphone?
Every situation is different. We live in a world where texting is considered a form of conversation, and cellphones can be a great way for parents to keep in touch with their kids, especially after school or on weekends. Cellphones can give parents peace of mind knowing that a child can easily get in touch with them should an emergency occur. But with independence comes added responsibility.
A cellphone brings a host of new freedoms and responsibilities that children and parents need to take seriously. Smartphones bring web access to kids’ fingertips, and we’re all aware of the dangers that social media and the online community pose. Sadly, kids are exploring sexual content at a younger age than many parents may even realize.
Because there is no one-size-fits-all answer, we decided to poll several parenting experts on the subject. Here’s what they had to say:
Wes Crenshaw, PhD, author of Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens and Dear Dr. Wes:Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens.
“Getting a cellphone for a child involves setting up an ethical use contract with kids about what is and isn’t permitted – and establishing the consequences, he says. For instance, some kids might be tempted to take selfies that have some sexual content. He points out that it’s extremely difficult to set ethical rules up after there’s a problem, so parents have to have an ethics discussion up front.
He also says: “There’s no minimum age for cellphones to be purchased because their purposes differ whether you are the parent or child. For parents, the issue is convenience and, too often, that takes precedence over good sense.”
The real issues are: A) What features will the phone have — the younger the child, the fewer the features. B) How kids are taught to use them.
“Never have teens and pre-teens held so much power at their fingertips—to publish commentary; to impulsively transmit any thought to a thousand followers; to create their own reality shows, etc. Kids being kids, they quickly forget that great power demands great responsibility. As a rule of thumb, the younger the child, the less features the phone should have. For any kid under 14, I STRONGLY recommend a very dumb phone. No data plan. No access to the Web.”
As for ethics, before anyone powers up a new phone, parents need to sit down and discuss the following issues:
1) When can the phone be used? Hint: It should go off during study time, an hour before bed, and at times when their use is impolite. If you don’t get this right up front, you’ll be fighting it forever.
2) Where can it be used? Hint: Any electronics in the bedroom lead to distracted, tired kids. Technology at school has its place, but only when it’s not a disruption.
3) What are the ethical uses of this technology? Hint: Smartphones (and some dumb ones) are tiny TV stations waiting to broadcast ANYTHING live as it happens. Discuss what can and cannot be on your teen’s channel, with a special emphasis on sexting pictures (it’s child pornography).
4) Who owns the technology and who has access to it? Hint: Parents own all technology until age 18, regardless of who buys it. Facebook, Twitter and other social media are just that, social. Parents should be friends and followers and kids who object undoubtedly have good reason. HOWEVER, phone calls, email and texts should be afforded greater privacy unless there is probable cause to believe the teen is at risk of harm to self or others.
5) What are the consequences of misuse? Hint: Make punishments increasingly serious and directly linked to the gadget. So, don’t take away a cell phone for poor grades unless it’s contributing to poor study habits. Parents take phones for unrelated things too often and no lesson is learned.
I’m also for kids having to earn money working at home in order to pay for part of their gadgets. My 10-year-old cleans my office weekly, for instance. They get paid and they have to cover a lot of their costs.
As for monitoring, no one under 18 should have an unfiltered iPhone, computer, android or iPad because extreme pornography is only one click away. I use mobicip, but there are others.
Finally, monitoring your child’s transmissions is defensible under two conditions: a) If they are under 14. b) If you have probable cause to believe that an over-14 child is engaged in untoward legal or sexual conduct online.
To learn more, visit: dr-wes.com
Darah Zeledon, author, speaker, coach, and humanitarian
As a mother of five, and parenting expert/writer, I strongly believe that there should be no “designated age” that kids are deemed ready to possess a cell phone. Each case must be treated differently. But here are five signs that a kid can handle it:
1) Demonstrates a balanced approach to life, i.e.: a little phone time, time playing outside/other interests or hobbies, time for homework and household chores.
2) Child understand this is an expensive and delicate piece of equipment and treats it according.
3) It does not markedly alter a child’s habits, activity/exercise routines or degree of interaction with real friends and family.
4) A child embraces an offer (opportunity) to help fund the cost of the device and monthly costs with money earned via chores or other means.
5) A child is responsible, self-directed, mature and shows gratitude.
Michelle Icard, tween parenting expert and author of Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years:
I think most children are ready for a cellphone when they enter the 6th grade. Here are some tips for parents to establish with kids:
1) If there is a password on the phone, I must always know it. If you change the password and don’t tell me, there will be a consequence.
2) I may look at your texts at any time. Only text things you are OK with me seeing. I will respect your privacy and only discuss a text with you if I have safety or moral concerns.
3) Your cellphone cannot be in your room after 8pm at night. It must be recharging in the kitchen at that time.
4) This is new to us both. I can change the family rules around cellphone usage as needed to address new situations as they arise.
To read more, visit: michelleinthemiddle.com
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