The Age of Independence: Children and Cell Phones

91.04% of the world’s population owns a cell phone. 95% of adults have a cell phone, and for kids, this percentage varies. 42% of kids have a phone by age 10, 71% of them having one by age 12. By 14, however, that number increased to 91%. These numbers aren’t surprising because of how much you can do with a cell phone – from using the internet, playing games, staying connected with friends and family, and numerous apps to enhance your daily life. As an adult, you might not be able to remember what life is like without a phone, but what about when you were a kid, too young or immature to have your own phone?

Why should a child have their own phone?

  • Safety. This depends on your community. In large urban areas, it’s much easier for kids to get lost or be approached by strangers. This is different to small towns, where it’s safer and it’s more difficult for kids to lose their way.
  • Connectivity. If you need to pick your kids up from school or other extracurricular activities, having a cell phone is a great way to coordinate with them, in case something happens.
  • Using social media. If your child is over 13, they’re legally allowed to have their own social media accounts. It’s likely that they’ll want to make their own accounts if their friends have one, as well, such as Instagram, TikTok, or Snapchat.

How can I decide if my child is ready for a cell phone?

If your child is under the age of 10, there are some factors you can consider before making the purchase.

  • Does your kid lose items easily? If your child struggles with keeping track of their belongings or breaking things, chances are that they won’t be able to keep a phone, especially if you consider the financial commitment a phone requires.
  • Does your kid have a screen addiction? A cell phone is an additional screen that your child may not need, especially if they can keep it. If your child cannot easily concentrate on their homework or tasks, a phone will only distract them further.
  • Is your child being bullied or bullying others? A phone can empower your child by connecting them with other bullies. If your child is a victim, it could easily be broken by the bully. You might think that it could be used to film the bullying, but chances are that they won’t have the opportunity to do that.

What are some alternatives to cell phones?

  • Kids’ smartwatch – there are pre-written text message responses, no internet access, and a contact list that a parent can create. It’s ideal for simple communication between parent and child, such as schedule conflicts.
  • Kids’ phone – it looks the same as a regular smartphone, but you cannot download apps without approval or visit any website. There are different models with varying restrictions, such as not having access to the internet or social media, or being unable to download apps.
  • Your old phone – older models of phones are also a good alternative if you don’t want to buy a dedicated phone for your child. This helps you save money and although your child may have free access to the internet and social media, it may not have full functionality as a new phone. You can always restrict your child’s activity with parental controls, as well.

How do I make sure my child understands what having a phone means?

This might seem like an odd question, but as kids, they must deserve privileges rather than simply being given it. This is how parents can establish healthy habits of rewarding good behavior, such as scoring high on tests, performing well in school, or excelling in other areas.

  • Emphasize that getting a phone is a privilege. It’s an additional monthly cost, on top of your own phone bill, rent, utilities, and more. A phone is a tool, not a toy, and your child must understand that.
  • Set limitations that both you and your child agree on. If you already impose limits on screen time for tablets, computers, or television, they’ll readily agree to any limits on their phone. Some of these may include:
    • Giving their phone to you at the end of the night before going to sleep.
    • Creating “phone-free” zones, such as the dining table or inside the car.
    • Designate “phone-free” times. This can last anywhere from an hour to several hours. You can use these times to emphasize doing homework or physical activity, or when walking to school.
  • Create a phone contract. Not the contract that you establish with your phone provider, but with your child. By creating a contract, both of you can create terms and conditions that stipulate when your child can use a phone or not, and if they break any of the rules, you are at liberty to take it away from them.

Always remember to lead by example. If you don’t follow the designated phone-free zones or times, neither will your child.

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