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April 13, 2024

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Best Age for a Cell Phone

The pressure's on parents to supply cell phones earlier and earlier ... but is that best?

Every child wants a cell phone and they’re wanting them earlier than ever, it seems. But you’re no dummy: Giving a cell phone to any child is giving him immediate, unparented freedom, so you know you’ve got to be smart about it! There are four key questions you should answer before giving your kid a cell phone says Common Sense Media, the nation’s leading independent non-profit advocate for kids. They are:

1) What can the phone do and can my child do it?

Talk to other parents who have bought cell phones for their kids to try and learn what is the best cell phone for a kid. Do your research. Focus on understanding what the phone can do (photos, videos, texts, programs, etc.) and whether or not your child can actually do those things with the phone.

2) What are the risks?

Cyberbullying, cyberharassment or sexting (which in Tennessee falls under the jurisdiction of child pornography laws). You can’t effectively discuss these risks with your child unless you understand them yourself.

3) Is my child responsible enough to handle it and the risks, too?

Each child matures at a different rate, and you will need to carefully gauge whether your child is capable of understanding what he’s doing with a phone. The bottom line is that he needs to be mature enough to understand and respect the consequences of violating your policy and his school’s (or worse, state or federal law), and also mature enough not to toss the phone in the wash with his dirty jeans (although this will probably happen anyway!).

4) Am I comfortable discussing the risks with my child?

If you are uncomfortable with the idea of discussing cyberbullying or sexting with your child, then it’s unfair to give him a gadget that makes it possible to do either.

You put a lot of time, money and effort into keeping your children safe and healthy. From car seats, to bike helmets, to swimming lessons and driver education courses, you do your best to ensure that your kids don’t get injured as they mature to adulthood. You need to do the same with the cell phone she so eagerly desires.

Cell Phone Tips

Common Sense Media, the nation’s leading independent non-profit advocate for kids, says once a child is old enough to go places on his own (like walk home from school alone), he’s old enough for a cell phone. Here is its guidelines for usage:

Tips for elementary school kids

• Ask yourself: Does he really need a phone? If you decide that he does, ask yourself what kind of phone he needs. For very young children, there are phones that you can program with just a few important phone numbers. For older elementary school kids, you might want to choose a phone that allows for calls but not texting or instant messaging (IM).

• Make sure young kids understand the rules. If your kids have phones, make sure you have programmed everyone’s numbers into the phones so that the phones display the names of who is calling. Tell your kids not to answer calls from numbers they don’t know. Make rules for time spent talking, what phones are used for and when the phones should be off. You may want to check the time of calls to make sure they are made within your established boundaries.

Tips for Preteens

• Make sure you have the right plan for calls or texts. Phone plans range in minutes and texts allowed. If you allow your preteens to text, get a plan with unlimited texting or you’ll face huge bills.

• Explain that cell phones are expensive and that “extras” cost money. You may be billed for ring tones, sports updates or Web access.

• Work out guidelines for use with your kids. No phones in class, phones turned off at night and no phones at the dinner table are common ones.

• Make sure your kids are using phones appropriately. That means no rude or sexy texts, no embarrassing photos or videos. Monitoring messages sent and received is not a terrible idea (although your children will probably think it is).

• Talk about cyberbullying. Tell your kids to come to you if anything like that happens.

• Tell your children that sexual talk of any kind is not allowed. Kids often jokingly use sexual language and sexually aggressive speech. Yet, on a cell phone, a message can be instantly forwarded out of context to anyone, and kids can get into all kinds of trouble.

• Establish real consequences for violations of your rules. Like taking away the phones for a week or longer.

Tips for teens

• No texting or talking while driving. Never. Distracted driving is how kids get into traffic accidents — it’s the number one killer of teens. Texting while driving is illegal in Tennessee.

• Make sure they pick up your call. Many teens treat incoming calls from Mom and Dad as a nuisance. As long as you are paying the bills, make a rule: They have to answer when you call — unless they’re behind the wheel.

• Have them review each month’s bill. Let them see precisely how many minutes they are spending on the phone or texting.

• Make sure you anticipate increased phone use. By the time your children get to high school, the phone is ringing all the time. Make sure their phone plan allows for this extra time, and establish limits so they get a break from being “always on.”

• Draw boundaries. No phones at the dinner table. In the car. In a restaurant. Remind your teens that they have only a couple of years left at home to have annoying conversations with you face to face!

About the Author

Susan Swindell Day, Editor

Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.