When Does My Child Really Need A Phone?

Deciding when to give your child a phone is not an easy task. Should you wait until they start high school or until they catch public transport home alone from school? Or, should 10 be the magic age when they become official phone owners? Or do hold off as long as you can until you can no longer bear their moaning that everyone else has one except for them!! 

How I Made The Decision 

When my boys were younger (and I knew a little less), we had a family ‘understanding’ that when the boys started Year 5, they would receive a (very cheap and likely second hand) phone. Up until Year 5, my boys would go to after-school care. Somehow, turning 10 and entering Middle School meant after-school care wasn’t really that ‘cool’ anymore, so instead they required a phone so they could safely catch the train home by themselves. The fact that they could also use these devices to play games and talk to their friends was of course, only a secondary consideration for them! 😉 

That was how we managed the phone situation but let me assure you, almost every other family we knew had a different approach. Some gifted their offspring the latest iPhones as soon as they were requested, others provided a phone but with no ‘credit’ so the devices could only be used to receive calls. Others chose to wait till Year 7 and beyond and made their kids pay for the phone plan out of their pocket money.  

Now, I’m a big fan of parents choosing what works best – no one knows a child quite like a parent does, right? But the problem is, deciding what’s right can be really overwhelming. So, I’ve put together a list of things to consider when making this all important decision. Once you’ve worked through these points, I am sure you’ll feel more confident to make a decision that works for both you and your child. 

How Responsible and Savvy Is Your Child? 

Having parented 4 very different boys, I am the first to confirm that every child grasps personal responsibility at different stages. Some kids just have a knack for losing things while others have the same lunchbox their entire school career! Some kids just get the consequence of spending money while others spend up big whilst gaming online, blissfully unaware of their bill.  

You child’s digital reputation should also be worth considering when making your decision. Some kids understand that their online behaviour forms a key part of their reputation while others will charge forth in a heated online exchange without thinking.  

I really believe there is a direct link between social smarts and a positive online experience. When a child can read a situation and instinctively know when to shut it down or withdraw, their online experience will be far more rewarding. If your child is slow to catch on to social cues, they may struggle with posting and communicating online.   

Will A Phone Really Help With Safety? 

When I was deliberating about giving my eldest son a phone, he really went hard with the safety argument – knowing it would appeal to my parental anxiety. So, I relented but he had to promise to answer when I called. And he did – usually!! But it’s worth pointing out that a device itself doesn’t guarantee safety. If your kids are travelling home from school, they still need to know how to cross the road, not to talk to strangers and to always lock the front door once home. A phone doesn’t teach this. But I personally did find it handy (and anxiety reducing) to be able to give them a quick call to give them a few reminders and ensure all was well. 

When my younger boys received their phones, tracking apps like Life 360 were available. I know, they are controversial but, personally I found these super helpful. Being able to see where they were after school and to ensure they were heading in the right direction on the train, brought me great comfort to me when I was beating away on my keyboard at work.  

Could A ‘Dumb Phone’ Or Parental Controls Help? 

If, after reading this, you’re thinking that your child really isn’t ready but still love the idea of being able to contact them, why not consider parental controls or a phone with limited features?  

Putting age-appropriate boundaries around what your child does on their device is what parental controls will do. If you decide that you don’t want them to download TikTok, play particular games or view certain categories of websites, then this maybe your answer. You can also choose to set limits on their daily screen time and block out times when their phone can’t be used. Check out McAfee’s SafeFamily parental controls for peace of mind. 

Or, instead, why not make a ‘dumb’ phone their only option? A basic dumb phone lacks the advanced functionality of most smartphones – think phones before the internet. This means you’ll be able to call and text them but will probably be more relaxed knowing they’re not researching the latest fads on TikTok!  

Some companies have designed dumb phones for kids that even have built in parental controls. Open Mobile has a SmartKids Phone with a built-in GPS tracker and SOS button and comes without a camera. It does have internet connectivity but parents can see which apps have been downloaded, restrict specific apps and nominate what days and times apps can be used. A perfect option for a tween or young teenager! 

Connection 

Now, before making your final decision, I think it’s essential to think about your child’s sense of connectedness. As adults, we all know that being part of a community and ‘belonging’ is critical to mental health and self-worth. And I would not be doing my job if I didn’t remind you of just how fabulous a phone can be for staying in touch with your people. Just take a moment to remember how essential devices were for survival during Covid lockdowns.  

So, over to you mums and dads. This is definitely one of the trickiest decisions you’ll make in your parenting journey but don’t forget that you know your child best. You’ve got this! 

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