When Is the Right Time to Give My Child a Phone?

Families need to consider their needs, as well as the maturity of their children, before giving kids their own cell phones. Factors to consider include phone features, family phone plans, and the use of parental control apps to ensure a child's safety. There are other products on the market that allow parents and kids to communicate but that do not offer full phone service.

Deciding if and when to give your child or teenager a cell phone has become a major issue for many modern parents. While phones can be useful when it comes to coordinating transportation and activities, many parents are concerned about bullying, high phone bills,and possible predation. There are several factors to consider and it's a good idea to consider these, as well as your child's personality and your family's needs while making a decision.

Giving a Child a Phone: Why or Why Not?

Parents give their children phones for a range of reasons, including:

  • The family lives in a home with no landlines, and every family member has his or her own phone.
  • Parents want to be able to stay in touch with their children during the day.
  • The children are involved in extracurricular activities that require coordination for pickups and drop-offs.
  • The child has a medical condition that requires communication with parents and, in some cases, the use of mobile apps for record-keeping and monitoring his or her condition.
  • The child wants a phone for staying in touch with friends, playing games, and taking pictures.

While these are valid reasons, many parents are hesitant to give their children phones of their own:

  • Parents and educators are concerned that too much screen time can have a negative impact on a child's cognitive processes, possibly leading to attention issues or other learning issues.
  • Concern that children who have access to a phone may not get enough exercise.
  • Concerns about a child's mental health in light of the fact that peer groups sometimes use phones and social media to bully and harass others.
  • Predators use phones and social media to groom children for abuse.
  • Kids aren't always careful and may end up losing or damaging a phone.
  • Kids may run up high bills through calling, purchasing apps, or in-app purchases.

What Is the Right Age?

Child development experts don't always agree on a "right" age for a child or teenager to get his or her own phone. Maturity levels vary between children and some kids are more responsible than others. In addition, some parents feel it necessary to provide a child with a phone for the child's safety or because the phone makes it easier to manage scheduling issues.

it's important to consider your family's circumstances and needs when making your decision. While some experts believe that only high schoolers should be given their own phones, your family may have unique circumstances, such as a younger child who has special medical needs. You and your physician may decide that it is in that child's best interest to carry a phone so that he or she can reach out for help at any time.

Smartphone Vs. Standard Cell Phone

Another consideration is whether your child should carry a standard cell phone or a smartphone. Standard phones allow your child to place and receive calls, and may also allow for checking on emails or web browsing. Smartphones, on the other hand, offer a greater level of connectivity through the use of mobile apps. Smartphones and smartphone plans often cost more than standard mobile phones and service plans due to the complexity of the phone as well as the use of wireless data.

Some parents prefer that their children only carry standard cell phones. The reasons are often complex but boil down to the following:

  • Standard cell phones cost less to own and operate, are less fragile than smartphones, and are less likely to be targeted by thieves.
  • Mobile apps found on smartphones can be more easily exploited by predators, carry with them the risk of a child making in-app purchases that the parents cannot afford, and are sometimes used by peers to bully each other.
  • A regular cell phone with few bells and whistles presents less of a distraction than a smartphone which holds multiple apps including games, social media, and the ability to stream video and music.

Still, many parents have no problem giving their children smartphones. In some cases, they simply give their children their old smartphones after they've purchased new models for themselves. This reduces the cost of smartphone ownership within the family. Often, these parents have other reasons for giving their children smartphones as well. child or teenager may use apps for public transportation, rideshare services, or connecting with school or work. In addition, some parents will use the video capabilities on a smartphone to regularly check in with teenagers to make sure that teenagers are where they say they are going to be.

Setting Ground Rules

Parents who decide to let their child have a phone have often found it useful to set ground rules for the use of the phone. These might limitations on how the child can use the phone, such as only being able to call parents and grandparents, limitations on "screen time" on smartphones, and allowing parents to regularly review texts, call lists, and activity on mobile apps.

Some parents opt to generally keep custody of their children's phones, only giving them to their children when the children are going to be away from their parents, such as when going to visit a friend or relative.

Choosing a Phone for Your Child

While some parents simply pass on their old phones to their kids, others prefer to choose and purchase phones specifically for their children. To some degree, your choice of phones will depend on the selection offered by your mobile phone provider. Here are some things to consider:

  • If you've opted for a standard cell phone and are purchasing the phone for a relatively young child, you may want to consider some of the phone models that are marketed to senior citizens. These phones are often simple in design and offer large keys that are easy for children to identify and push. n addition, they are usually sturdy, affordable, and do not require a lot of technical knowledge to operate.
  • Consider purchasing preowned or previous generation models which are often sold at greatly discounted prices. If you opt for a smartphone, consider purchasing a sturdy case for it: Children and teenagers are often harder on their possessions than adults and a protective case can reduce the chance of breakage.
  • Parental control apps allow you to restrict and monitor your child's smartphone activity. There are several different apps on the market, some of which are designed to work with specific mobile platforms.

Choosing a Cellular Plan

Most carriers offer family cell phone plans that allow you to bundle multiple devices and phone numbers into one plan. As is often true with telecommunications products, you will likely have to do some research and crunch some numbers before you find the right plan for you and your family.

You'll want to consider the following:

  • How many phone lines can you include in a specific plan? What about other mobile devices, such as tablets or smartwatches?
  • If you are choosing a data plan, consider how much data your family uses. Keep in mind that many so-called "unlimited" data plans throttle data after a certain level of usage. You should also consider how many minutes of phone time the plan offers.
  • Some household packages include a number of perks, such as unlimited streaming of certain entertainment networks such as Netflix. This can represent significant savings, so pay attention to perks offered when comparing plans.
  • Read the fine print. Some packages quote a price that does not include taxes or fees. Ask questions about how much you can expect to pay each month for phone service.

Phone Alternatives

To be able to stay in touch with your child during the day, there are options available. Verizon offers an item called the Gizmo Watch, which allows you to communicate with your children via two-way voice communication and text messaging. In addition, you can add up to 10 contacts on the watch so your child can reach siblings, neighbors, trusted friends, or relatives. The device also has GPS functionality so that you'll be able to keep track of your child. Similar devices are also available through other companies and can be purchased at places like Best Buy or through Amazon.

Final Word

Cell phones are a big responsibility and carry with them some risks. However, many children (and teens) are able to use their phones responsibly. If you are having difficulty deciding about giving your child a phone, talk to friends and family members with children in the same age group and get their thoughts about the issue. You should also consider phone alternatives that will allow you to stay in touch with your kids.

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Asked 8 months ago
Updated 8 months ago
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