My Child Wants a Phone. Should I Say ‘Yes’?

Reflecting back on the days of our youth, the advent of mobile phones was quite different. Now, it seems as if our society revolves around being digitally connected. Being unresponsive to texts or calls is deemed as ignorance or worse. This digital climate has our children craving to join the action. But, how do we know when the time is right to give them a phone of their own, and how can we ensure their safety?

The Current Stats on Kids and Mobile Phones

In a recent report released in 2020 by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, it was revealed that in 2020, 46% of Aussie children aged 6 to 13 used a mobile phone. The report also shed light on the fact that 33% of children owned a phone they used, while 14% utilized a device that didn’t belong to them. 

The study further identified the most popular activities kids engaged in on a phone: playing games, capturing photos/videos, and utilizing apps. This report also indicates an upward trend in using the phone to communicate via text messages and calling a parent or family member. If your child is among the tweens and teens who argue that “everyone has a phone,” they’re not far from the truth. About 76% of 12- and 13-year-olds own their own devices, as per the report.

Dig Deeper: A Look Beyond Their Lock Screens: The Mobile Activity of Tweens and Teens

Deciding on the Right Time for a Phone

There are several factors to consider before taking this significant decision. Apart from their age, their maturity level, technology habits, and your gut instinct should be the primary considerations. Each child is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The key question is whether they are ready to handle the technology properly and navigate the complexities that come with it.

For clarity, a naive 14-year-old with low social awareness may not be as ready for a phone as a well-equipped 12-year-old who has proven problem-solving abilities. Here are a few questions to mull over before making your decision: Can your child decipher social cues in written form, such as messaging and texting apps? How equipped are they to manage hurtful comments? Do they have a track record of managing valuable items well, or are they typically careless? How well can they manage their screen time?

Dig Deeper: The First Smartphone for Free-Ranging Kids

Setting the Ground Rules

My biggest piece of advice to parents thinking about giving their child a phone is to set the ground rules before the phone is passed over. Once the phone is in their hand, their cooperation may decrease. Some families choose to outline the rules for any device (including a phone) in a family technology agreement.

A family technology agreement is a set of rules and boundaries you develop and have your child sign as a contract. The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) provides a great template you can use. You may also come up with your own set of rules. Some points to consider include kindness and respect in all phone communications, no phones in bedrooms overnight, restrictions on use during dinner, clarity on who foots the bill for excess data, phone loss or damage, or in-app purchases, etc.

McAfee Pro Tip: Bring up critical conversations with your kids, especially now that the online world is getting bigger but more dangerous by the day. Help your kids build strong digital habits with our tips.

The Transition to High School

In my opinion, the transition into high school is a fitting time to consider phone ownership for your child, if it hasn’t been considered before. The need for them to catch public transport, for instance, may necessitate having a phone for emergencies. However, this transition doesn’t rule out your ultimate decision.

You’re the parent! No matter how much pressure your enthusiastic tween is applying, the decision to give them a phone rests in your hands. You alone are the best judge of your child’s maturity and readiness. The moment you give them a phone, you are thrusting them into the adult world, so, only say yes when you are certain that the time is right.

What to Consider When Buying the Phone?

Once you have made the decision to give your child a phone, the next step is deciding what type of phone to give them. Start with a basic model that allows calling and texting, and slowly upgrade as they prove their responsibility and maturity. You might want to consider a phone with parental control features. These features may include limiting internet access, blocking inappropriate content, and monitoring usage.

Dig Deeper: 8 Signs It May Be Time for Parental Controls

Do your research and consider different brands and models. Also, if you opt for a contract, understand the terms, especially regarding data usage and the implications of going over the limit. You might want to consider prepaid phones initially, as they can help teach your child to manage their usage and understand the value of money. Once they have demonstrated responsible usage, you can consider moving to a contract plan.

Setting Up the Phone

Once you have decided on the right phone, setting it up correctly is crucial for your child’s safety. This includes installing necessary security updates, setting up strong, unique passwords, and activating built-in security features. If the phone has biometric features, like a fingerprint scanner or facial recognition, ensure these are set up as well.

Install any necessary parental control apps. Some apps allow you to monitor their activity, set limits on screen time, block inappropriate content, and track their location. However, make sure you discuss why these measures are in place with your child and ensure they understand it’s not about invading their privacy, but for their safety and wellbeing.

Teaching Responsible Phone Usage

Teaching your child to use their phone responsibly is as important as deciding when they should get one. Discuss the importance of respecting others when communicating online, not sharing personal information, and only connecting with people they know in real life. Also, talk about the consequences of their online actions, and how they can impact their digital footprint and their reputation.

Teach them about cyberbullying, including how to recognize it, how to respond, and when to report it. Empower them to stand up for others and to block or report anyone who is bullying them or others online. Discuss the dangers of sharing or viewing explicit material and the possible legal implications.

Dig Deeper: A Detailed Guide on Cyberbullying

Digital Detox and the Importance of Offline Time

While your child might be thrilled with their new phone, it’s essential to establish the importance of disconnecting from the digital world regularly. Implementing ‘digital detox‘ times in your family’s routine, where all devices are put away, can be a great way to ensure your child understands the importance of offline time. Encourage them to engage in other activities, like reading, playing sports, art, or spending time with family and friends.

Make sure they understand the impact prolonged screen time can have on their physical and mental health. Discuss the importance of not using the phone during meals, before bedtime, or while doing homework. Having balanced screen time habits will not only benefit their overall well-being but also lead to healthier technology habits in the future.

Dig Deeper: 6 Tips to Help Your Balance Your Children’s Summer Screentime

Final Thoughts

Deciding to give your child a mobile phone is an important decision that should not be taken lightly. Every child is different, and it’s up to you to decide when they are mature enough to handle the responsibility. Remember to set rules, monitor usage, and teach them about safe and responsible usage. Choose the right parental control methods, depending on your child’s habits.

While the digital world can seem daunting, with the right guidance and boundaries, your child can reap its benefits while avoiding its pitfalls.

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