Technologies like cell phones have added a whole new dimension to parenting. Twenty years ago, bullies were left behind when kids boarded the school bus home. Adult content was only available in stores that required shoppers to be older than 18.
While those dangers can now fit in a pocket, cell phones also have safety value. As a parent, you may worry about whether their kid will be able to contact you if they’re lost or hurt. Weighing the pros and cons is key for deciding whether to invest in a kids phone.
The choice isn’t one-size-fits-all. Ask 100 parents what the right age to buy their kid’s first phone is, and you’ll get 100 answers.
It simply doesn’t make sense to use age as the single marker of phone readiness. Instead, look for these five signs that your kid is ready for the responsibility of phone ownership:
They Have Good Reasons for Wanting a Phone.
First things first: Ask your kid why they think they need a cell phone, and listen closely to their answer.
Good reasons they might cite include:
- They are involved in a school group that uses SMS messaging to stay connected.
- They need the device for online learning, especially if they don’t have broadband internet at home.
- They’re learning to drive, and they’re worried about emergencies on the road.
- They recently got a job, and they need to stay in touch with their manager.
- They’re going on a school trip, and they need a phone in case they get separated from the group.
It’s important to make sure your kid isn’t asking for a phone based on peer pressure, or wanting to fit in. A friend having the latest smartphone isn’t a good reason to get your own kid one. Start a dialogue with your child to determine why they want a phone, and move forward from there.
They Know How to Be Safe Online.
Part of the dialogue you have about getting a phone should cover staying safe online. Unless you plan to get them a phone without internet access, your kid will use their phone to go online.
You aren’t overreacting by worrying about what your son or daughter might see or do online. Have a conversation with your kid to see what they know about protecting their personal data. If they’ve proven they can use a computer at home responsibly, that’s a good sign they’ll use their phone the same way.
If so, start discussing how you expect them to behave online. Together, agree on:
- A list of approved websites and social media apps.
- How much non-call phone time they are allowed each day.
- What to do if they see something suspicious or unsafe online.
- How to identify child predators online.
- How to handle cyberbullying, and that they should never bully others.
- Best practices for safeguarding data like their home address and birthday.
They Take Care of Their Stuff.
Everyone loses and breaks things on occasion, so don’t think your kid has to have a perfect record with their possessions to be ready for a phone. However, if they consistently fail to take care of their possessions, then it might be best to wait a few years before getting them their first phone.
Observe how your child treats some of their more valuable possessions. If they have a musical instrument, do they keep it clean and stow it in its case? If they have a gaming system, make sure it’s kept clean and put away when not in use.
If you think your child is ready for a phone based on how they treat their other possessions, it’s still a good idea to choose a durable phone. No one is perfect, so choosing a phone that can stand some daily wear and tear is a smart idea.
They Understand the Cost.
Before purchasing a phone for your kid, see what they already know about its cost. They may only be focused on the phone itself, and not the accessories and additional expenses that go with it.
Have a discussion about the true cost of owning a phone with your kid, and see how they respond. If they are receptive to the information and seem to understand a phone isn’t something that can be purchased over and over again, they may be ready to own one. If you’re on the fence, wait: After all, it’s your money that’s on the line.
Depending on your child’s age, you may want them to take a more active role in budgeting for their phone. Saving money for a big purchase can help them learn the value of their phone and why they need to take good care of it.
The best sign, however, is if your kid asks to help pay for the phone. Being willing to chip in, whether through actual money or through help around the house, signals that they will treat their first phone with respect.
- They Make Mature Decisions.
Part of growing up is learning to make the right decision when the wrong one is easy or tempting. Keep an eye on how your kid handles stressful situations. If they lash out or mistreat others, they probably aren’t ready for their first phone.
What you want to see before buying your kid a phone is that they make good choices when given a little independence. Consider worst-case scenarios your child may face with their phone, and ask how they would react. If you find their responses to be reasonable, then trust your gut.
Sit your kid down for a serious conversation. When do they think it is and isn’t responsible to use their phone? How will they ensure it isn’t lost or stolen? What should they do if they receive a call from an unknown number?
Only you and your kid can determine when they’re ready for their first phone. Involve them in the decision-making process. Give them a chance to show you that they’re ready for this big next step.