With the holidays around the corner, kids are already hammering out their wish lists and for many kids, a cell phone is top on their list. Parents often want to know when (if ever) is the right time to allow a child to carry a cell phone. Of course each parent must weigh the pros and cons and ultimately decide if their child is ready and if the time is right. We have heard many of the negative stories about kids and cellphones (bullying, sex-ting etc) but a cell phone can also be a great way to stay connected with your child and a powerful safety tool for kids.
However, before buying a cellphone, here are some important questions to ask yourself in helping to determine if your child even needs a cell phone.
Does your child:
- Respect his/her belongings in an age appropriate way?
- Show responsibility in keeping track of their personal items?
- Walk home alone?
- Plan on spending time home alone?
- Babysit at other people’s homes?
- Participate in after school activities where they will have to coordinate rides home?
- Often end up waiting for you because you are running late?
- Respect the rules at school?
- Preparing to enter middle or high school next year?
If you have answered “yes” to more than 5 of these questions it may be time to think about a cell phone for your child.
Getting your child their first cellphone does NOT mean you should get a smart phone loaded with a full data plan! Kids don't need Internet access. They need a way to reach you. Start simple and see what works for you and your child. For example, you may find that texting is the way to go—or not.
Make sure your child has a clear understanding of your expectations regarding cell phone usage. What are your family rules? Need help getting started? You can download this cell phone contract for tweens and their parents, to get the ball rolling.
As tweens get older, they want to fly under the radar and not stand out when they are with their peers. Being cool and fitting in becomes a priority for tweens, even when they find themselves in a risky situation. A cell phone can be a great tool for your tween or teen to reach you and still fly under the radar with their friends.
Keeping your child safe is always a priority so remind your kids not to give out their phone number or lend their phone to others. Be sure to review your rules and expectations often with your tween.
Some parents might find that open discussions work fine. Other parents might feel that monitoring software alleviates their anxiety. As with any new gadget, there will be bumps in the road. Cell phones are no exception. However, with careful guidance, you can help your child safely navigate their way into the world of technology.
About the author: Kim Estes is a child safety expert and the founder of Savvy Parents Safe Kids. Kim believes that every child deserves a safe childhood and that through prevention education, adults have the power to keep children safer.