I’m not sure this is a debate anymore since cell phones have become such an integral part of our lives. Sometimes I just sit in amazement that this is a question that my parents didn’t have to ask themselves or others. Ours is the first generation to tackle cell phone drama. So, should kids have cell phones? Like most parenting topics, it really depends. In this article I’m talking about some of the most common factors that I’ve heard others consider for their families and the ones that I considered for mine.
Here’s the why, when, what, where, and how of making the right cell phone decision for your family:
Why should kids have cell phones:
The big three reasons kids have cell phones are for safety, connection, and convenience. Phones can be used for safety considerations. For example if your children walk to or from school, are involved in extracurricular activities, or generally spend time outside of your or a trusted guardian’s direct supervision you may have safety concerns that make cell phones a necessity for you. You want to provide a way for you and your kids to check in and make sure they are safe.
Another reason is if you and your child’s other parent are not in a relationship. Depending on the relationship you have with the other parent, you may choose that you would like to have a way to converse with your kids without having to go through the other parent. It’s important to be able to stay connected even when your children do not live with you full time.
Finally, convenience is the third most common reason kids should have phones. Cells phones can do so much. Kids can replace so many other devices with them because they are more portable. Everything you can think of to do on a larger device can be done on cell phones. Cell phones can replace tablets, gaming devices, laptops, cameras, and desk tops for on the go activities. It’s less to keep track of when you’re out and about. Also there are more applications and games available on cell phones than any one other type of device.
Our family’s decision: Convenience. We decided our son should have one for the convenience of taking pictures of his boards at school.
When should kids have cells phones:
My observation has been that when a kid gets their first cell phone is dependent upon the reason they are getting it in most cases. That makes sense right? You may choose to get your child a cell phone for example if they will be walking to school with out you for the first time. You should consider seriously that it’s time to get your kids phones when you have a reason to.
As parts of the parent community we should invoke a no judgement rule because for some families, the appropriate time to get a cell phone for their kids really could be as early as six and as late as eighteen. It’s a personal choice that each family must feel comfortable with for themselves. I feel like parents who get their kids cells phones at the youngest and oldest ages may feel like they have to defend their choices. I think as parents our goal is to be supportive of other parents.
Another pressure point in the decision parents face is when kids start asking to have one. If this happens and your ready, great. You can move to the step of figuring out the what and how. But, if it happens and you don’t think your kids or you are ready, it’s good time to ask you child why they want one. The Keeping Up With the Jone’s bug bites early and it’s an opportunity to talk with kids about how what works well for other families may not be right for yours and getting comfortable with the fact that all families are different and we don’t have to have everything we see other people with. It’s another opportunity to teach kids to follow their own game plan and cultivate contentment.
Our family’s decision: 13. The first time our son asked for a cell phone was five years earlier. We were not ready to permit him to have one and it turned out that he only wanted one because he liked the games his friends had on their phones. My daughter will likely get her first one at the same age but if we have a change in our after school set up or activities we are open to changing our mind.
Which cell phone should kids get:
Here’s our what part of the question. There are so many phones available. How do you chose which phone to get your kids comes down to the features that are important to you and that you and your budget. Your kid’s level of maturity and whether the phone is a gift or for an important event or occasion are also considerations. The good news is that there’s an appropriate phone for every scenario and budget.
Our family’s decision: iPhone 7 for a milestone birthday.
Where to get your kid’s cell phone:
Parents can give their children their own old phones when they upgrade to a newer version. Some families have extended family provide a phone as a gift.
A few ideas of where to purchase are through your cell phone provider, a big box electronic retailer, most mass retailers also sell cell phones. Most of the time you have the option to purchase in store or online. There’s also the option of purchasing from services that sell recycled phones. Or you can purchase from someone looking to sell their old phone.
Our family’s decision: Through our current cell phone provider.
How to get kids a cell phone connected to family plan:
When you only need calls and texts without the bells and whistles or if you’re concerned about overages, the best choice can be a prepaid phone. You don’t have to figure out adding to family plans or anything like that.
If you choose to purchase a phone and add it to your family plan, it’s a good idea to shop around to make sure you’re getting the best deal now that you’ll be adding a phone and potentially to your data package.
Our family’s decision: Add the additional cell phone to our current family plan. It was still the best deal for us.
Managing the Downside
Once kids have cell phones, we have to manage the downsides. The downsides are most like the many reasons we as parents are reluctant about them in the first place. We are concerned about:
- the safety of our kids online
- things like cyber bullying
- becoming so engrossed in phones that they don’t pay attention to their surroundings, face to face interaction, or bedtimes
- the ability to monitor and set limits on it’s usage.
To address these concerns it’s important we set gound rules and consequences for misbehavior. This isn’t just a conversation for cell phones but around electronic use in general. Here are some steps we can take to manage the downsides:
- Teach kids how to protect their identities online.
- Do not allow kids to have friends that they do not know in real life online.
- Use parental controls and apps to restrict access and limit screen time.
- Centralize your overnight charging station so that all cell phones are in one location outside of their bedroom.
- Regularly talk to kids about .cyber bullying and look for signs that kids are engaged or victums
- Establish no phone zones during family time.
- Require them to maintain grades and chores.
- Consider putting the rules and consequences in writing.
- Finally enjoy cells phones with kids, play games and share funny videos with each other.
What’s your cell phone story?
How about you and your family? What factored into your decisions to get or not to get your kids cell phones? What’s your why, when, what, where, and how for whether your kids have cell phones? How do you manage the downsides?