Family Life

Mom, Can I Have a Cell Phone?: Navigating Through the Big Decision

Be honest. As you’re reading this, how far are you from your cell phone? Is it next to you? Is it in the next room? Chances are, you’re not very far from it, and it’s very possible that your phone is in your hand because you’re using it to read this. Whatever the case may be, we keep our cell phones close, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. We’re connected people. We could be expecting a call, waiting for a text to come through, or just simply keeping it nearby in case something happens. We really are connected the majority of our days.

So, it only makes sense that eventually our children will want to be connected, too. However, deciding on whether or not they truly are ready to be connected–or even need to be–is an entirely different story, and reaching that decision is difficult. It takes a lot of thought about how your child will handle the responsibility. So, how do you know that your child is ready? And, do they really need a cell phone to begin with?


Ready to Connect?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all method for knowing when a child is ready for a cell phone. There isn’t a magic number for a child to reach that will let the parent know, “It’s time,” such as the driving age or the age to vote. Knowing the right time to take that step depends on the child in question.

Kelli L. Ewing, LPC, explains, “There really isn’t a right or wrong answer that fits the population as a whole, but the general consensus for a lot of parents is to give their children cell phones between the ages of 14-17. Once children start going places with others or alone is usually another time parents consider cell phones for their children.”

To help make things a little easier, there are certain characteristics to look for and habits parents can think about before making the purchase for their child. “The most important thing to consider is the maturity level of the child as well as if the child has shown a pattern of responsibility when taking care of other important items in their possession,” says Ewing. For instance, is he consistently losing his things? If so, it’s possible he will lose the cell phone, too. If the child is leaving the house, does he let you know? And, does he follow the rules in the house? These are all things that should be weighed when making the decision to buy.


Is the Phone Necessary?

After tackling the decision on whether or not a child is ready for a cell phone, the question of whether or not the child even needs one comes into play. There are plenty of reasons as to why a child may need one, but there are just as many reasons to hold off on getting one.

For instance, some parents opt to get a child a cell phone to keep in touch with the child while he or she is being transported back and forth to school. Ewing shares, “If your child has a cell phone, it’s usually the fastest way that you can get in touch with them and vice versa. If there is an emergency, cell phones can be crucial in communicating with your children to ensure his or her safety.”

For the new drivers in the family, the cell phone is a great tool to have for maps, helping the driver to avoid getting lost. And, another helpful tool? The immediate access to the Internet for help with homework. Children are now even bringing their devices to school to help with assignments while in the classroom. While many schools previously had strict rules against electronic devices on campus, some schools have become more lenient with these rules in order to allow students to use their phones as a resource.

However, the immediate access to everything on the Internet is also a downside to a child owning a cell phone. In seconds, a child can access inappropriate websites and images, save or share them, and communicate with people all over the world—all without the parents’ knowledge.

Preteen and teen social media presence has vastly expanded over the last few years. Between Snapchat and Instagram alone, individuals are able to connect at rapid rates and share their day-to-day movements as they happen. This can frighten some parents and even put the child’s safety at risk. Throw in the inappropriate use of those social media apps (bullying and sexting, for example) and parents have even more to worry about.

Because of “not knowing the dangers of chat rooms or bogus sites offering ‘free prizes’ as a result of entering in their parents’ or their own personal information, online predators can easily access financial information of the user and run amuck making fraudulent purchases on Mom and Dad’s dime. Adults can easily lie about their age and personal information on child-geared group chat rooms only to successfully lure innocent young people to providing inappropriate information about themselves, and in serious cases, convince them to meet up outside of the home,” says Ewing.

Despite all of this, knowing the child’s behavior and monitoring the child’s actions while the child is online can and will prevent the child from getting into trouble.


How to Stay Safe

For parents that have decided their child is ready, and that he or she will find the device useful, parents should be just as educated on the device as the child is. Ewing explains, “We like to tell children that having a cell phone is a serious responsibility. In truth, the responsibility is just as great, if not more so, on the parent. Parents must make a point to research all of the latest safeguards to protect their children from online predators, cyberbullying, and the multitude of dangers of the Internet.”

And most importantly, parents should be ready to monitor their child and their usage of the cell phone. “With the rise of problems with children and social media, specific apps are being created for parents to be able to monitor their child’s cell phone data and usage. If parents don’t educate their child or teen on age-appropriate behavior as far as the Internet on the phone is concerned, they often don’t possess the time to constantly monitor what their child is consuming from social media,” says Ewing.

Taking the time to monitor a child’s usage and keeping communication open with the child about the importance of his or her safety while using the device will help to make this entire process a lot easier. While there are a lot of things to consider before deciding to hand over a cell phone, taking the time to consider those things will absolutely be worth it for the parent and the child in the long run. ■


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