At what age do you give your child a mobile phone?

at-what-age-do-you-give-your-child-a-mobile-phoneThe quick answer is that it’s less about age and more about maturity.

A mobile phone today is much more than a handy device to make necessary phone calls: it’s a mini-computer, internet trawling whiz gadget. That’s a lot of power in the hands of a child, preteen or teen whose reasoning and deduction capabilities are not yet fully developed.

On the other hand, a mobile phone makes it easier to stay in touch and connect in cases of emergency.

Here are some things to weigh up when considering buying your child a phone:

1)    Is your child responsible?
Does your child arrive to school on time (if they bike, walk or bus) and home on time? Do they communicate with you in advance about going to a friend’s house after school and do they arrive home when they say they will?

2)    Is your child good with personal property?
If your child tends to lose things – backpacks, homework folders, books etc – can they be trusted to take care of a phone? Do they look after the technology they already have, i.e. a tablet or laptop computer, or leave it lying around on the floor?

3)    How is your communication?
Do you and your child have good, open communication? It’s really important that they can come to you and talk about any contact they receive that makes them uncomfortable, and what is and isn’t okay in terms of texts, photos and videos they’re accessing. It’s also important that you can ask those questions and regularly keep this conversation open.

4)    Do they need a phone?
Want and need are two separate things. Do your kids need to be in touch for safety reasons? Mobile phones can be great if the kids take public transport to school, stay at a friend’s house or if you share custody. Remember, if your child isn’t responsible enough for a smart phone, it’s still possible to get a simple phone without those capabilities.

5)    Is your child ready for the social implications?
Will your child be able to adhere to the limits you set for minutes talked or parental control over apps downloaded? Will they be able to resist texting in class or disturbing others with their phone? Will they leave their phone with you overnight to make sure they don’t go online or wake up to messages in the night? Sleep is so important for growing kids and teens, and research shows that mobile phones have dire consequences on learning because of lost sleep and disrupted sleep patterns.

6)    Have you talked about cyber bullying?
It’s so important that your child understands what cyber bullying is, and that they can come to you for help at any time, in any circumstance, without judgement. Cyber bullying – and bullying in general – loses its power once its secrecy is blown.

Once again, it’s not about a child’s age, but their maturity level. And that may differ between siblings. So if you think your child’s technological savvy is greater than their ability to use it wisely, pay attention to that gap.

We’ve got your technology questions answered at Family Times.