As a parent, one of the toughest decisions you will have to make is deciding if and when to give your child a phone. In a day and age where the internet is just as scary as it is glorious, you have every right to be a little apprehensive. So what exactly is the best age for children to have their first phone?
The truth is that there is no fixed answer to this question. All children are different and all parenting dynamics vary. It is therefore not possible to set a specific age where it is ok for your child to own a phone. There is, however, a range with most parents being comfortable giving their children a phone between ages 12 and 17. A study by Pew Research Center reiterates these sentiments showing that 75% of kids 12-17 have a cell phone.
How to know your child is ready
Since there is no fixed children average age for the first mobile phone, it is entirely up to you to decide when they are ready. There are 4 key signs that your child can handle the responsibility. Here they are.
There are very many ways to gauge a child’s level of awareness and responsibility. One of the best methods is by seeing how they interact with pets. If you do not have a pet, you can tell by observing their willingness to lend a hand in the house and their ability to follow through on promises they make. Finally, you could use your parental intuition to determine whether or not your kids can handle it.
This is very important to consider in order to prevent the chances of the child developing a social attachment to their phone. So if your child is able to interact with peers and make friends without a phone they are most likely ready to own one.
Shows interests in offline activities and hobbies
This also prevents the child from being a phone addict. Having separate interests means that they will not rely fully on their phones to keep them occupied. That way you know you are not releasing a nomophobic phone junkie into the world.
There is a good reason for them having one
Ask yourself why you think your child needs a phone. Is it because you are away a lot and you need to be able to get in touch? Could it be that they have expressed a desire to interact with friends when they are not together? Whatever it is, your job as the parent is to determine which are good reasons and which are not. For example, if your child wants a phone because everyone else has one then you have every right to hesitate.
Pros and cons of giving your child a phone
In addition to considering the 4 traits of a child who is ready, you need to weigh the risks. Giving a child a phone has its benefits. However, it also has its fair share of risks involved. Here is what you should expect and prepare for from the move.
– It gives you a way to get in touch. This is especially important if you are away a lot.
– It teaches discipline especially when you have no-phone zones and time restrictions.
– It instills the virtue of responsibility as they have to not only take care of the phone but monitor their usage.
– It facilitates social development by allowing your child to interact conveniently with peers.
– There is also a risk of phone obsession. This is particularly common with children between the ages of 12 and 17.
Protect your kid from the dangers of owning a phone
The risks are without a doubt significant when it comes to giving a minor a phone. However, the numerous benefits are simply too great to pass up on. The best compromise is giving your child the phone and taking extra precautionary measures to ensure their safety. Below are 4 ways to protect your child from the risks of owning a phone.
Restrict phone time
This is one of the most effective tactics employed by parents against their kids’ obsession with smartphones. It is especially effective with younger children in their preteen and early teen years. Simply set a phone curfew and you do not have to worry about living with a little zombie whose face is constantly glued to the screen.
Monitor online activity
Not many children want parental controls to keep them safe online but it is absolutely necessary. This is important to help prevent things like cyberbullying, online child exploitation and other dangers involved.
Invest in background checks or e-nanny programs
These are programs that are installed onto phones to protect users from harmful sites online and keep your child from accessing harmful sites on the internet. They also keep online predators at bay preventing contact that could put your child at risk.
Restrict access to social media platforms
Social media platforms are designed for good but a lot of nastiness comes from them. One of the most common issues is that of cyberbullying. To be on the safe side, just restrict your child’s access to such sites especially if they are still very young and impressionable. They might fight and fuss but it is truly for their own good.
In conclusion, there is no specific age where parents can be 100% guaranteed safe phone use by their children. The best you can do is to choose to trust your child and take measures to protect them. With all the information provided above, it should be a little easier for you to decide on if and when to give your child independent access to a phone. That way, whether it is to keep in touch when you travel or it is to keep them occupied, you will be confident in whatever decision you make.
Amy Scholl is the youth technology safety specialist at KidGuard. Investing my time into educating parents about the ideal child safety online measures. Being knowledgeable about youth online usage is a key component of effective 21st-century parenting.