Should kids have cell phones? It depends.
Think through a few questions listed below when considering if they should have cell phones. And if they’re not ready yet, discover the best smartphone alternatives for kids.
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Should kids have cell phones? It’s the question that every modern parent eventually finds themselves asking. For practical purposes though, when it comes to kids and cell phones, there are actually several questions you should be asking yourself first:
Why should kids have phones?
Do I need an emergency phone for kids?
What other communication devices for kids might fit the bill?
Would smartphone alternatives be a better choice?
Then, you might ask yourself follow-up questions such as when should a kid get a phone if you decide that they need one.
As I often remind families as a futurist, parent and the author of “Parenting High-Tech Kids,” there’s not always a pressing reason to put a smartphone in a child’s hands. However, smart tech can open the door to all sorts of wonderful apps and games for kids, and a wealth of helpful connections and insights. It also means having to prepare kids to greet the challenges that online connectivity and communications often bring.
Taking a few specific items into consideration can help you determine why (or why not) your kids should have phones, and if various smartphone alternatives present a better option.
When should kids have cell phones?
First off: It’s important to be aware that there’s no single universally accepted age at which experts say that kids should have cell phones. A good rule of thumb is 13 years of age, and that presents a fine general baseline to work from. However (and it’s a big however), of course parents will have to make that decision for themselves, based on the child’s maturity and other factors.
Here are some important points to consider and questions to ask yourself when contemplating if your kids should have cell phones:
How mature and responsible are your children?
To what extent have you prepared them to react to questionable exchanges or controversial content they may encounter online?
Do you need a communication device for children or an emergency phone for kids for practical reasons?
Is there a compelling purpose to put a cell phone in your child’s hands just yet, or would you be better served by waiting a little longer?
Also important to remember: Before bringing any high-tech device into your home, it’s critical to establish rules and guidelines governing its usage and what content is appropriate to consume and share. That means taking time to specify with your kids how much screen time they’ll have access to daily:
Will screen time be earned or given?
When and where it’s appropriate to use communication devices for kids
If phones must be shut down at certain times of day, such as an hour before bed and during breakfast or dinner
In addition, you’ll want to make it clear that your door is always open as a parent if your children encounter questionable exchanges or content online. You’ll also want to make it clear what the consequences will be if your household rules aren’t followed, and under what circumstances privileges will be regained.
Why should a kid get a phone?
The answer depends on when you feel that they’re ready for it, or when there’s a compelling reason to suggest that they really need such a device for purposes of safety or schooling. From a practical standpoint, that typically means when your kids start participating in after-school activities and camps, when they need to get in touch with you remotely while away playing at friends’ houses, or when they’ll otherwise largely be outside of your direct oversight or accessibility, such as walking to class. Similarly, when considering if kids should have cell phones, you’ll want to consider adding a parental control app, such as Smart Family, if they need online access to information, apps or websites to aid with their lessons, assignments and learning.
Keep in mind that introducing various communication devices for kids into your home also means having to make a commitment to do your homework as a parent, as these devices and apps and their respective capabilities are always changing. In addition, you’ll need to make a point of actively working with your children to ingrain positive high-tech habits on a daily basis, such as learning to put down devices while conversing with other family members or by a certain time each evening. On the bright side, as I’ve observed in my own household, kids and cell phones can often be a winning combination. That’s because children have boundless curiosity—and as an always-on, ever-ready gateway to a wealth of online information and activities, smartphones can expose them to a multitude of positive exchanges and experiences … plus new insights, information and individuals.
That said, giving a child a cell phone effectively means exposing them to the wide virtual world at large. Just as you wouldn’t send them out to play in the neighborhood without teaching them about potential hazards to be aware of, and ingraining good safety habits, you’ll need to prepare them in advance before they play in the digital world. Remember: Technology is simply another tool for learning and communication, and like any tool it’s important to know how to use it responsibly in order to enjoy a positive and uplifting experience.
What to get your kid instead of a phone
Not ready for your kids to have cell phones yet? That’s perfectly understandable. Parents of younger children especially may wish to consider the many smartphone alternatives for kids.
For example, a number of child-friendly cell phones for kids are specifically designed to help you communicate and keep tabs on your tot while also setting boundaries on their online access and limiting unwanted communications. Many popular offerings offer extensive parental controls—or eliminate web browsers and app stores entirely—allowing you to control screen time, filter out age-inappropriate material and prohibit access to unwanted apps or websites. Numerous devices also allow you to pre-program friends’ and family members’ contacts into the handset and restrict communications to these individuals. Several models additionally utilize geo-tracking and GPS capabilities to let you follow kids’ movements and limit internet access to preapproved apps and services.
A variety of wearable smartwatches, like the GizmoWatch, can also provide peace of mind by letting young kids call, video chat or text right from their wrist. Several kids’ wearables make it possible to put to-do lists and daily reminders, such as “Don’t forget to meet Dad for pickup after art class at 4 PM!” at their fingertips.
Of course, many families looking to pick up an emergency phone for kids may also consider equipping them with older flip-phone models that lack extensive internet and app connectivity features or lack cameras and videoconferencing capabilities. Or they may send kids off to school with devices whose connectivity is limited to conversation and calling only. Keep in mind that there are myriad smartphone alternatives for kids available, the majority of which either: (a) introduce helpful high-tech training wheels or (b) allow you to implement parental controls that limit what kids can do, the extent to which they can go online and whom they can communicate with.
Answering the question of when a kid should get a phone often becomes easier when you realize you don’t have to dive into the deep end of telecommunications technology right off the bat. If you’re looking to help kids get their feet wet and comfortable with high-tech devices before scaling up to more fully featured systems, you can buy pocket-sized GPS trackers with touch-powered speakers and SOS help buttons that you can send kids to school with as an alternative to smartphones or tablets.
So the good news is that you don’t have to worry much. If you feel that your child is too young to have a cell phone, a variety of high-tech tools stand ready to help you stay more connected with your children at every turn.
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