05.13.2014Personal Tech

Sneaky Grandpa Buys First-Grader a Smartphone...and Mom Says OK

This is a guest post from Andi Ferguson, a senior account supervisor at Wordsworth Communications, an Ohio-based public relations firm and a vendor to Verizon Wireless. Ferguson is a lucky daughter, mother and wife. Her parenting style can best be described as white knuckles.

My father is 77 years old. My daughter is seven. And I am somewhere in between.

Countless times I have called him in a pinch when my kid gets sick and I have a client meeting, or when the babysitter calls with a conflict, or just when my daughter wants some Grandpa time. He always comes through. It’s quite amazing.

The other thing that amazes me about my dad is how he embraces technology. He had a Facebook account before I did. And every time I visit him I swear he’s upgraded his PC. The last time I was at his place, he demonstrated how his smartphone can access the security surveillance system for his business properties. The man loves tech.

Knowing this, I should not have been surprised when in June 2013 my kindergartner came home from a Grandpa visit with a smartphone. Grandparents like to spoil kids. Kids love phones. But, ugh!

To my relief, her “new” device was his old phone and was not hooked up to the network. He gave it to her to play with, and she put it by the wayside. At that time, anticipating what was to come, I told him she could not have a working smartphone until the sixth grade.

Fast forward three months: My now first-grade daughter walked in and proudly showed me her brand new iPhone 5s, complete with a LifeProof case. My father was two steps behind her, defending the purchase to me.

He said something that convinced me: I have a lot on my plate. What if I forget to pick her up one day from the bus stop?

So I caved. Maybe kids and cell phones isn't as scary of a combo as I thought it would be.

Certainly a smartphone is not for every first grader. And many parents or teachers might be mortified at my decision to let her try it.

What I’ve discovered, however, is the device provides security, an educational tool and most importantly, early lessons about how to safely use technology. The last point cannot be overstated, because at some point in her teenage life I know she will become somewhat resistant to my influence, so early lessons should stick for life.

For instance, my daughter loves to ride her bike in the three cul de sacs in our neighborhood, and I don’t want to be “helicoptering” behind her. With the smartphone strapped to her, Find My iPhone gives me a reasonable peace of mind.

Last week, before she attended a classmate’s birthday party, my daughter and I gently reviewed how she would contact me using her phone if she felt overwhelmed by too many people at the party, or if she was playing hide and seek and became lost. Most recently, when I saw a “bossy” text come through to my kid from another little girl, I was able to use it as a teachable moment for both my daughter and her friend, as their age easily allows adult intervention.

I don’t advocate any particular age by which a child should get a phone. Certainly kids and cell phones is a personal decision driven by individual family values and priorities. In my case, changing my mind about access to a phone became a pleasant surprise.

My number one recommended app for families? Verizon FamilyBase, which allows me to see which numbers my daughter receives calls and texts from and who she is contacting and when.

After all, a smartphone is a personal computer with two-way access to the world. And kids need to be kids.

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