“But all my friends have a smartphone!” You’ve probably had this long and emotional discussion before. Here are some things to consider when it comes considering a smartphone for children.
Should children have a smartphone?
Recently, there is a widespread discussion in general about whether or not a smartphone for children makes sense. While some argue that children don’t need a smartphone, others stress the importance of having such a phone.
But what should parents do? You should weight the pros and cons of cell phone use and children. Here are a few things to consider:
Smartphones can connect you and your child
Having a smartphone can be very useful for your child. The main benefit is constant contact. Imagine the following: Your child missed the school bus and will be at home later. Maybe it’s one of his first days at school and you might be wondering if everything is okay. A short call or text message and you can be sure, everything is all right. A smartphone can also be helpful if there’s a serious emergency and they need to call 911 or any other emergency number.
But while it’s great to have these open lines of communication, do they really need a smartphone to make emergency calls or text you? A regular flip phone can accomplish the same purpose without the extra apps and features. Also, if “all their friends have a phone,” can’t they use one of those phones to stay in touch?
Counterpoint aside, certain features on smartphones like “Find my iPhone” can let you know where your children are, and platforms like FamilyApp help you keep lines of communication open. Also, even if all their friends have phones since many of us no longer have landlines, it’s reassuring to know that your older child can reach you if they’re ever home alone.
Smartphones and responsibility
Having a cell phone might be also good for teaching your children responsibility. Your child has to keep it charged and in working conditions. You can also teach your kid financial responsibility with a phone. For example, you can set guidelines who is paying for what in the context of the cell phone.
The main counterpoint again: do you really need a smartphone to teach responsibility? While it’s great to use a smartphone for these purposes, there are plenty of other real-life examples for teaching these lessons. Give your child a weekly allowance, and keep them accountable for doing weekly chores around the house.
Smartphones and learning
A smartphone or tablet can also be a good learning aid. With appropriate apps for children, they can learn by playing. Your child can visit virtual museums, read online books or practice math on the smartphone.
While smartphones can supplement the educational process, even the best virtual museum isn’t a substitute for the real thing. A reading app is great, but it’s not the same as cuddling with your child enjoying a book together.
More disadvantages of a smartphone for children
Here are a few other potential unintended consequences of getting your child a smartphone:
Some children use a smartphone as a status symbol and bully children with older smartphones or with phones with fewer functions. If you do give your child a fancy new phone, be sure they understand it’s a privilege, NOT a right.
Children will more often play kinds of video or better called mobile games instead of playing hide and seek. This may have consequences for their physical health and the development of the motor skills.
Also, cell phones can be easily hacked and tracked. As great as it is to know where your child is, make sure you’ve added extra security measures to keep their location safe from others.
There’s a lot of great stuff available from a smartphone, but there’s also a lot of junk. Even if your child isn’t trying to find something inappropriate, it’s really easy to innocently visit the wrong webpage or see a questionable ad in an app.
Yes or No? An age-old question
Disadvantages aside, your children need to know how to deal with this technology. Therefore, some suggest to introduce them to the digital world in the early years. At first, it seems to be counter-intuitive, but some say learning how to deal with a smartphone is in terms of education and cognitive development the same as learning how to read a book. It’s part of teaching responsibility: At first, your child needs your help and also needs to know the opportunities and the risks of using a cell phone. But after a while, they will learn which behavior is right and which not.
More information on a smartphone for children
Check out the Common Sense Media Report for more thoughts on getting a smartphone for children. Their research indicates that the age of your children is not the important point. You need to consider these three factors:
- their maturity level
- the ability to follow rules at home and at school
- their sense of responsibility
Crucial questions for parents
Consider some questions before giving your kids a cell phone: Can they stick to limits you set for minutes talked and apps downloaded? Do your kids need to be in touch for safety reasons? Here are more questions to consider.
These questions are important, but I think the more important aspect to consider depends on parents and caregivers. Will they be able to hold kids accountable, and make sure they only view their phones for a short amount of time? Are they able to regulate their own smartphone use? Can they make sure their children aren’t able to access anything harmful or dangerous?
A smartphone for children: the bottom line
Overall, deciding the right time to give your child a smartphone is a very personal decision. But here’s a good tip to consider. Think about families you know who you think are doing a really good job as parents. They might not be your best friends– but they’re the people who are doing interesting, fun things together. Their children are well-behaved, kind, and creative.
How do they handle smartphone-use as a family? Were the parents intentional in their parenting, or did they use technology as a babysitter?
No matter what you decide about smartphone use for your children and teens, make sure that that they’re a supplement NOT a substitute to quality time spent as a family.