The chorus sounds like this: “All my friends have one. Everyone in school has one. Why can’t I have one?” The name of the tune is, “what’s the right age to give a cell phone to a youngster?”
A study aimed at cyberbullying at the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center found that 20% of boys and 18% of girls in the 3rd grade had their own cell phones. That number climbs to 39% across both genders in 5th grade and jumps dramatically to 83% of kids in middle school.
So what the right age for your child is depends on several factors, and for every child and every parent, the perfect answer is quite different. There are guidelines, however, to help parents make the right decision. A cell phone has just as many negatives as positives in the hands of children. While most parents feel it’s a great safety device, it can quickly turn into a dangerous tool.
First, evaluate the maturity level of your child. How responsible is he/she when it comes to losing things, forgetting things, or breaking things? Does your child practice prioritizing? Does your child have a good sense of what is right and wrong? While it’s one thing for kids to use a cell phone to let parents know where they are, it’s another story when students use their cell phones to play games or text message during classes. Keep track of your child’s grades. If you see grades falling, rethink that cell phone and confiscate it.
Next, evaluate the actual need for a cell phone. Does your child really need one? Many parents like to think that if they can reach children via cell phone, then they will know their children are safe. That is not always the case unless the parent is able to actually see where the child is at any given time. That’s not easily accomplished. Parents need to set strict rules and make sure those rules are followed. Limit text messaging to parents only; allow phone usage at specific times of day or in emergency situations only. Most importantly, set guidelines and rules that your child understands clearly. Then hold your child to those rules by being vigilant.
Know your child’s friends. Do you approve of his/her friends? Some children are easily misled by others. If yours are more likely to listen to their friends than you, then that cell phone no longer serves as a safety device.
Does your child acknowledge when he/she has made a mistake or does your child go into immediate denial? Accepting setbacks and taking responsibility for mistakes are sure signs of maturity. It’s very easy for children to lie about doing something wrong.
Next, parents need to stay on top of research. Because so many studies are being conducted regarding cell phone use and its effect on various stages of life, it is important for parents to read as much as possible on new studies. Interestingly enough, a recent study indicated that “kids between the ages of 12 and 16 rely more on their emotions when performing rational tasks.” When emotions rule, decision-making is at its most questionable. Parents need to stay informed and be aware.
The best way to protect your children is to research the cell phone market. There are many plans that enable parents to monitor their children’s phone usage. Prepaid cell phone usage is an excellent way for children to earn their right to use a cell phone and often costs about $10 per month. There are also family plans with unlimited usage, and it’s a good idea to get insurance if a child has that phone.
So what’s the right age for your child? When that child is mature enough not to abuse the privilege and is able to thoroughly understand the consequences of not abiding by parental guidelines. Know your child and don’t be afraid to say “no” when that child is not ready.