The decision to give your child a cell phone is not one most parents take lightly. There can be many differing opinions between parents including within the same household. For some, you may feel at ease knowing that you can reach them when apart and they have a way to get help when in an emergency. For others, it opens up Pandora's Box of being exposed to inappropriate content, power struggles, and even financial constraints on families. Where ever you stand in this discussion, this article can help you review both the positives and negatives, spark conversations with yourself, partner, and child, and also support you coming to a decision. I have also included a cell phone contract if you choose to provide a phone to your child.
First things first, let me start by saying what ever you end up deciding and what ever pops up into your head along the way is valid. It is not an easy choice and its okay to change your mind (either way!). By reviewing where you stand and by being open to all avenues can help you feel confident in your choice. You may be one who knows that you'll eventually have to cross that bridge and provide a phone to your kiddo, but are unsure at what age to do so. Maybe you're dead set against getting your child a phone anytime soon despite feeling the pressure from your child, their peers, your partner, and even friends. Or you currently have provided a phone but need to reevaluate the rules around it. Thank you for being here and helping yourself and children.
Its fun to start with the pro's (im such an optimist) so lets begin there. It can be super scary being apart from your child. Sometimes we get these dark thoughts about what can happen to them and it makes us feel out of control. Knowing that we can reach out to check in on our child or provide them with their own secure way to reach out to us if they need help can be so grounding. Not just in case of an "emergency" but for times when our child feels uncomfortable, wants to leave an environment, or needs to talk. Having a phone can be a great way to be able to ensure an "out" for them as well as reassurance for us.
Continually, it can provide them with some autonomy and responsibility. With appropriate usage, they are able to gain responsibility for not only taking care of a high priced item, but more importantly, showing you that they can follow said rules and guidelines you set (see contract at the end of this article). It is a wonderful way to gain equity as someone committed to proving their responsibility. They can also start to be more independent by utilizing strategies within the phone to help with their daily tasks; they can set their own alarm, use the calendar to practice staying organized, have a calculator on hand, document moments by taking photos and videos, ext). By using these widgets, they are able to have more control over their day and be tech forward.
Lets review some cons and reasons to hold off on the phone. Not to jump into the major biggie right away, but, it provides an availability for social comparison. This is done through basics such as not having your friends respond back/not include you on group chats, seeing your friends and others doing "fun" things and feeling like you missed out, and self comparison in regards to looks and material items.
It also sheds light into cyber-bullying and sexting. This can occur both with apps and without. Its important to discuss these with your child and have open conversations. We want to protect our children, however, abstinence does not protect them from the issue. Having conversations and being available to them if something comes up is the best way to keep them safe. We want to put protective and safe measures in place while discussing difficult topics and teaching how to navigate and listen to their gut. Saying something like "it is not okay to say mean or rude comments online/on your phone to others. It is hurtful and is just the same as saying it to their face. Continually, its not appropriate for someone to say those things to you. If someone does, this is how we can handle it....." Furthermore, "sending, sharing, or even receiving sexual photos of yourself or others is considered child pornography. Even if its your friend, even if you think its 'cute' or 'sexy', once its on someones phone, it can be detrimental to them, but everyone involved can get into trouble with the law. If this happens and you receive a naked/semi-naked/sexual picture, this is how we will handle it...."
By having open discussions ahead of time, you made your self available if it occurs and teach your child ways to navigate the situation.
All of that being said, it is your personal choice on what to do. I do not have an age I'd recommend it as it is personal. What I do recommend if you go the route of getting your kiddo a phone, is having a cell phone contract. This is a set of rules and expectations that you have for your child. Simply handing over a phone and saying "make sure you answer when I call" is not enough. In this contract I not only outline the rules, but consequences as well. Kids need to know what will occur if they break the rules, and parents need to feel confident to stand by their decision. Download the PDF below. Good luck with your decision and navigation in the parenting game. Its definitely not easy but I trust you to make the best decision for your family.
Cell Phone Contract
Related: Watch my YouTube video discussion on this topic here