Smartphones are making their way into the hands of tweens and kids younger and younger these days. Just the other day a third grader at my child’s school was dialing her mom at pickup. But shockingly, the pint-sized person with a large phone against her ear did not disturb me half as much as the fact that it caused me to question whether I too should be placing a pricey smartphone in my 5-year-old’s possession.
It’s not just about: Age
Although age tends to be the first factor when deciding if your child is ready, Dr. Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist and anxiety expert at the Child Mind Institute, says it’s more about a kid’s social awareness.
“You could have a really immature 15-year-old who’s acting out on the phone, but you give it to him because he’s 15, whereas a really socially mature 12-year-old could handle it better.”
Dr. Burbrick recommends considering your child’s social cues, how they manage screen time on other devices and whether they are responsible when it comes to money and expensive belongings before giving them a cell phone.
It’s not just about: Cost
When many people end up paying monthly leasing plans for high-end phones, cost may be a major barrier. But more important than finding the fanciest phone for your child, is finding the right fit.
Common Sense Media says, “the best cell phone for kids is the one they use responsibly and respectfully.”
For young kids, they suggest phones with simple controls, big buttons and limited features. But if you decide your child is ready for a smartphone, Common Sense Media recommends you spring for a device that allows you to turn off features. This is where parental control apps also offer peace of mind, helping monitor not only what your child accesses on their phone, but what comes in, as well.
It’s mostly about: Guidelines
Experts tend to agree that the rules need to be established before the phone even comes into your home. Dr. Gail Gross, human behavior, parenting and education expert suggests considering the following when creating your cell phone rules:
- Remember even your tweens and teens are still children and may not be mature enough to understand the risks or danger that comes with cell phone use. Align your rules accordingly.
- Create specific cell phone usage hours.
- Be prepared to communicate with your child often and openly about the rules.
- Know what the rules are at their school.
- Lay out the consequences clearly from the beginning.
Dr. Gross says a popular way to initiate these rules and cell phone use is with a contract, where each party understands the other and is committed to working together.
And Diana Graber, co-founder of CyberWise.org, says if your kids break the family rules, taking the phone away shouldn’t be your first reaction.
“That sends their behavior underground, and that’s the last thing you want,” she told CNN. “If there’s a problem, you want them to feel comfortable to come to you and say, ‘Hey, can you believe this person asked me to send them a sext?’”
Bottom line, keep the dialogue open from the beginning, whether your kid is using their first cell phone at 5 or 15.