The “Right” Age
At what age should children be allowed to have cell phones? There’s no set rule, and no set age. The decision will vary family by family, and even child by child. But while there is no “right” age for everyone, it is helpful to consider the following questions when making the decision for when a cell phone is appropriate.
Why is a cell phone needed?
For some families, a cell phone is necessary for children as early as elementary school due to specific needs. For example, if a child with health problems or allergies has a flare, he or she can use a cell phone to contact parents immediately. Pay phones and landlines are becoming harder and harder to find, and in a medical emergency, every second counts.
It may be that both parents work, and it gives them peace of mind knowing their child can reach either of them at any moment if needed. With more dual-income households than ever before, children are often unsupervised for at least a portion of the day. The security of a cell phone helps keep tabs on all the members of the family.
How will it be used?
How will the child be using the cell phone? Will it only be for emergencies, or will it be permitted to call and text friends? Is there internet access on the phone? Have you set family rules as to appropriate usage?
If the internet is accessible on the device, it is essential to first discuss internet safety with the child, even if the topic has been covered before. No matter what the child’s age, internet safety cannot be stressed too much, especially as the specific dangers associated with the internet change with the child’s age. In an article from Teen Safe, Gwen O’Keefe says “the most important thing to teach kids about the Internet is how to recognize issues, what to do if an issue arises, and how to go about avoiding those issues in the first place.”
For a child under 7, don’t scare them with discussion of predators lurking behind fake profiles. Simply show them how you use the internet, and help them realize that you are communicating with real people.
For children 7 and above, it is important to make them aware of the increased stranger danger on the web, as well as defining cyberbullying. Explain how to stay safe, and what to do if they ever feel uncomfortable or bullied.
Ask Yourself: Does my child understand appropriate usage of a cell phone? Is my child mature enough to have internet access? Does my child know how to stay safe on the web?
The decision to give a child a cell phone is not one to be taken lightly. If your child asks you for a cell phone, have an open conversation about why he wants one, what he would do with it and why he feels he needs one. Discuss your concerns with your child, and discover how you could address them together. Also look into options for phones that only connect to you or other emergency contacts.
With an open conversation, the decision of what age is the right age for a cell phone can be reached for each family.
Tara Heath is a journalist who lives in California. She has a passion for helping people and has been in the education and health industry for quite some time. She hopes these tips will help parents teach their children about how to be safe when it comes to technology.