What Is the Appropriate Age to Buy Your Child a Mobile Phone?

Many children these days understand how to use cell phones by the time they are in kindergarten. Children’s advanced technological skills, combined with many parents’ need to be out of the house when their children come home from school, cause parents to give their children cell phones at early ages. In addition, since most children have phones by the time they are in third grade, parents who choose to wait may inadvertently isolate their children from their peers. However, children who have access to cell phones too early may abuse the privilege of having a phone. These children may engage in cyberbullying or other inappropriate behaviors; they may also distract themselves and classmates by using their phones in school.

There is no set age at which a child should have his or her own phone; the appropriate time to introduce phones depends on the child’s personality, ability to understand cell phone use and level of maturity, so it could be as young as 9 years old, or as old as 16. There are a few general guidelines you can follow to determine whether a mobile phone is right for your child.

 

  • Determine whether your child really needs a cell phone. Since cell phones can potentially get your child into trouble or allow him or her to engage in disruptive behavior, you should only give a phone to a child who needs it. For example, it makes more sense for a child who is home alone after school or who is always at a friend’s house to have a phone than a child who is rarely in a situation where he or she needs to contact you immediately.

 

  • Make sure your child understands what cyberbullying is and why it is wrong. Children who struggle with empathy or who are aggressive towards other children in face-to-face situations may not be ready for a cell phone. Children should be able to understand that their communications can hurt other people’s feelings and be capable of thinking communications through before they get their first phone.

 

  • Children should be able to understand that phones cost money and what the limitations of your plan are. Show your children the bills you pay every month and go over with them how much it costs when they make phone calls or text with their phones.

 

Alternatives
If you do not think your child is ready for a cell phone but you need to be able to be in touch with him or her while you are not together, there are a couple of alternatives you might want to consider. Some companies make cell phones designed specifically for children. These phones have limited capacity; they allow your child to call you by pressing a button, but may not allow them to go online, text or make calls to numbers you have not pre-programmed into the phone.

You may also want to get a prepaid phone for your child. Prepaid phones require you to pay a certain amount each month for a fixed number of minutes or texts. This can help children learn to monitor their phone usage; once all the minutes or texts are used up, the child won’t be able to use the phone until you put more money on it. Pay prepaid phone bills once a month so that your child learns that if he or she misuses the phone, it won’t be usable again until the next month.

If you do decide to get your child a fancier phone that can get online or do other things besides make calls or texts, make sure you understand how to use it. You may also want to make a rule that unless your child is calling you, he or she must be in your presence to use the phone so that you can monitor phone activity.

Although cell phones are ubiquitous, deciding to give one to your child is not an easy decision. If you put some thought into it and put safeguards in place so that your child can’t misuse the phone, a cell phone can sometimes be a good idea. Each parent or set of parents must make the decision to get their child a phone based on their knowledge of the child; there is no set age that is more appropriate.


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