Yesterday, a friend asked me if I believed that kids should have cell phones before they can pay for the phone and the monthly bill. One reason is that it would presumably save parents, both financially and from having to deal with the mistakes their kids may make with their devices.
I told her that I don’t agree with that thinking. Yes, they will make mistakes with their phones, and that is exactly why I think that kids should have phones before they can pay for them.
The conversation came about when she saw this post on Parent Guru, which asked how to handle monitoring a child’s texts in light of some that their child had received that involved a lot of swearing. The response was to take the phone away until the child can be solely financially responsible for it.
I felt like this advice missed a huge teachable moment. What about teaching the child how to handle inappropriate texts? The parents have an opportunity to teach the child how they would like him to respond, be it saying I don’t like or use that kind of language to blocking the offender who was using the uncalled for language. Simply taking the phone away, however, does not give that child any idea of how to handle the scenario in the future, and let’s face it, it’s likely to happen again at some point in his life.
There is a learning curve to technology, and kids need help.
Actually, there are a lot of learning curves. In addition to learning how to use the device and apps, there is the challenge of figuring out what is appropriate (and inappropriate) to post, knowing how to respond to less than ideal situations and even serious ones like bullying and harassment, and there’s the issue of knowing how to resolve conflicts that occur via text or social media (face to face is always best whenever possible).
It’s true that giving a child phone gives them access to the entire internet, and that can be both good and bad. (And yes, it’s okay to find it a little terrifying.)
But you know what? It’s highly likely that your kid has access to it already, be it at home, at school, at the public library, or through their friends’ phones.
The scary stuff is why you monitor. Be involved, and be vigilant. Trust, but verify. And most of all, teach.
There is so much to teach kids about being online.
Kids need to be taught to be kind and respectful. To know when to walk away. To set limits. To not share personal information. To turn off their location features. To not let the phone replace personal interaction. To seek help when they feel a situation is out of control.
Giving kids technology is a lot like giving them the ability to drive. We don’t wait until they’re a certain age, hand over the keys, point them to the highway, and say, “Good luck with that!”
Instead, we start slowly. We talk a lot. We practice, with an older, more experienced person present. We expect them to make mistakes, and to learn from them.
There is value in making those mistakes in an environment where there is the guidance to facilitate that learning, and an opportunity for parents to share what you think, and why.
Few 16 year-olds can afford a car outright, but we still teach them how to operate one because it is a life skill. The same is true with a phone.
Just like cars, the internet isn’t going anywhere. It’s here to stay, and your child can learn how to use it from you, or from their friends. I’m going to guess that you’d rather it be from you.
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that all elementary students need an iPhone. It’s absolutely okay to say, “No, not yet.” And there are phones that don’t give access to the internet and they can be a great place to start.
Whatever the device is, every kid is different in terms of maturity level and they can handle different responsibilities at different ages, and that responsibility ranges from not dropping or losing a phone to being able to handle the power they have. Chances are, if you do a little soul searching, you know if your kid is ready for a phone. If they’re not, stick to your guns, even if all their friends have them.
And I certainly don’t think that kids should have automatic access to all social media. I’ve written here about why I think it’s so important that parents respect the age requirement (typically 13 years old) set by most social media platforms and that lying to let your kid have an account is a bad way to start out their online lives.
It’s also okay to show kids how phones can be a source of good. The article my friend shared said that “phones do not facilitate one pro-social behavior.” I disagree.
I’ve seen my daughter connect with family friends who live thousands of miles away. I love that she uses it to connect with grandparents and cousins in other states, be it by text or FaceTime. In monitoring her texts, I’ve seen a lot of support, understanding, and sympathy given and received among my daughter and her friends. I classify all of that as pro-social behavior.
I do think that a child having some kid have a financial stake in a phone can be wise, and for some families it is necessary. How to handle finances, and how to handle technology, all varies family by family, and there is no one right way. But it’s worth considering getting your kid a phone if money is not the stumbling block, because it’s a huge opportunity to teach and impart values, and once they are out on their own, that get a whole lot more challenging.
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Filed under: Parenting