“You can contact me whenever you need to and I can call if there are any emergencies or if I need a ride home,” rationalized the girl. Seeing that the approach was not gaining any traction with her parents, the girl switched course to pleading. “Please! All of my friends have one and I will be the only one who doesn’t have one. I will be a complete outcast!”
A relatively new rite of passage for children is when they first receive a cell phone. This rite of passage has been occurring earlier and earlier for children. Almost a third of 3rd and 4th grade students have cell phones and that number jumps to almost 70% by the time children are in middle school. Like it or not, parents will have to answer the question of when the right time is to get their child a cell phone.
Unfortunately, there is no one answer for this question. While a child’s age can be a factor in the decision, parents should also consider the child and her situation. For instance, a child can vary in her level of independence. A child who does a lot of activities on her own is more likely to need a cell phone to contact her parents than a child who does not. Also, a child who keeps track of her belongings and is responsible in completing assigned tasks on her own is more likely to use a cell phone responsibly than a child who struggles to keep track of her things.
A good way to get a sense of whether a child is ready for a cell phone is to initially buy a basic phone. These phones are relatively inexpensive and have limited capabilities. This allows the child the opportunity of proving that she can use a phone responsibly. Parents can consider this gradual approach as a trial run for getting the child a phone with more capabilities later on.
Regardless of the type of phone that is selected, parents should attach plenty of strings to the deal. This means parents should establish clear rules regarding the use of the cell phone and who has access to it. The first rule should be that parents will always know the password for the phone and can access it at any time. It should be made clear to the child that the phone is not for her alone.
The second rule is that parents should always be answered immediately when they try to contact the child. Most parents first give children cell phones as a way to stay in contact with their child and know where their child is. This only works when the child answers the phone.
The third rule is to establish when the phone can be used and when it should be turned off. Common time limits include not using the phone when the child goes to bed at night and not using it during family meals. The number of rules for the cell phone can be expanded beyond these three based on the needs of the child and family.
The next step is to make sure a child practices basic safety rules for cell and smart phones. One safety rule is to be respectful when texting others and knowing that all texts should be considered public. Another rule is that when a child uses the camera, she should ask permission first and not publicly embarrass others. A third rule is to be aware of the costs of apps and that real money is being spent to get many of them. A final rule is to be selective when posting and to not use the location services available on most smart phones.
While there is no single guideline for getting a child her first cell phone, parents can use the above suggestions to start the process.
This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on April 13, 2014.