“Mom, when can I get a phone?”
“All my friends have one and I’m the only person left out!”
“You’re so unfair! It’s just a phone; nothing bad is going to happen!”
The question of when to give your child their first phone is one that many parents struggle with. Actually, let me rephrase that: it’s the battle over when to give your child their first phone. As a parent, you want to ensure that your child is ready for the responsibilities and potential risks that come with owning a phone. And our kids? Well, they want to feel included socially, to enjoy the freedoms that a device may give them, and to feel trusted.
The decision isn’t easy. So to help us get to the bottom of it (and the bottom of about a hundred other kids and technology questions) we assembled a team of 20 experts in technology, psychology, and social media to come together at the Reconnected Kids Summit. Collectively, they gave us 8 simple questions you can ask yourself or your child before purchasing them that first mobile device.
Question #1: What is the Why?
Logical first question, right? Why do they need a phone? Is it for safety and communication purposes? Do they need it for school or extracurricular activities? Are you, the parent, driving the desire for a phone? Or is your child? Perhaps it’s their friends? Understanding the underlying motivation will help you determine if your child is truly ready for a phone.
Question #2: Is my child responsible in other areas?
Maturity plays a crucial role in responsible phone ownership. Reflect on your child’s ability to follow rules, make good decisions, and manage their time effectively. Can they handle the distractions and temptations that come with having access to the internet and social media?
Question #3: Can my child unplug from their current tech access?
Maybe your child uses a family iPad, or a video game console, or simply watches television. Are they in control of their current screen use? If they already struggle with excessive screen time, it might be a sign that they need more guidance and self-control before being entrusted with a phone.
Question #4: Does my child have the social and emotional skills for a phone?
The internet is a big place, and there aren’t a lot of rules that govern it. Having a phone means being exposed to social media, messaging apps, and online interactions. Consider whether your child is emotionally prepared to handle potential cyberbullying, peer pressure, or inappropriate content. Can your child show kindness and respect to others? It’s essential to establish guidelines for online behavior and encourage open communication about any concerns they may have.
Question #5: Have we set clear boundaries and rules together?
There’s lots of conversation that needs to happen before your child owns a phone. Instead of simply telling them what the rules will be, get them invested by collaborating with them. Determine what times they should not use their phone, such as during meals or before bedtime. Agree on which apps are allowed and which ones are off-limits. Regularly review and adjust these guidelines as your child grows and gains more maturity.
Question #6: Have we discussed responsible phone use?
Stepping from the ‘real world’ into virtual space is like traveling to a different country. There are different forms of etiquette, the language used is different, and there may be different kinds of dangers. Before getting your child a phone, have an open conversation about what it means to be responsible in that space. Discuss appropriate content, online behavior, and the importance of privacy. Ensure that they understand the potential consequences of their actions and the importance of maintaining a healthy balance between screen time and other activities.
Question #7: Do I, as a parent, have the ability to monitor and guide my child’s phone usage?
Monitoring your child’s phone activity is an essential aspect of responsible parenting. Are you willing and able to keep an eye on their online interactions, app usage, and browsing history? Do you need to consider parental control tools that can assist you in this task?
Question #8: Are there other options that will meet my child’s needs?
Lastly, evaluate if there are alternative options to meet your child’s needs without giving them a full-fledged smartphone. For example, a basic phone with limited features, or perhaps a kid-friendly smart watch, may be sufficient while reducing distractions and risks associated with full-on internet access.
Deciding whether to get your child a smartphone is just the starting point of a long and complicated tech journey, and the experts at the Reconnected Kids Summit can guide you from one end to the other. Touching on topics like screen time, internet safety, tech in schools, social media and mental wellness, video game addiction, and so much more, we know you’ll come away feeling more in control of your family’s tech life.