With the holidays right here, I want to talk about something that is very likely on your child’s wish list regardless of their age: A phone. You may be hesitant to give them one but I’m going to tell you why you should consider it.
When I was growing up, we didn’t have mobile phones. We didn’t have pagers. We didn’t have anything. But we did have a teen phone line which offered my brothers and I the opportunity to sit on the phone with our friends to all hours of the night talking about anything, everything or nothing at all. When I went to college, we were just starting to see mobile phones. It wasn’t until I moved to California in my late 20s did I have my first phone and saw the unbelievable convenience it was. I also found comfort and peace of mind knowing I could phone for help in such a massive city.
But the reality is we aren’t living in the past. A phone isn’t simply about calling or messaging someone when you need help. It’s about being able to carry a calendar with you, look up something on the internet, learn a new language, update your grocery list or scan coupons at the store, text someone or in the farfetched chance, actually CALL someone.
A survey conducted by U.S. Cellular in 2016 showed that parents begin letting their children use their smartphones or tablets at age eight. I think those results are a bit off. I’ve seen parents letting babies and toddlers use their phones while out and about and tablets while at home. Maybe what they were trying to say is that parents (on average) let children use their OWN phone or tablet at that age. With so many educational apps available for tablets and schools integrating devices into the curriculum, it only makes sense that kids have them younger and younger. There’s often the question about when kids should get their first phone. Participants in the survey said the average age for a child to get their first cellular phone is 13, down from 14 five years ago. If I were to survey friends on Facebook, that age would be much lower. We purchased Madison’s first phone when she was 11.
For kids, having a phone means freedom and independence.
As with many of the people surveyed, safety is a key reason for getting a child their first phone. We’re more likely to let the kids do something on their own such as go roller or ice skating with friends or Trick-or-Treating without parents because we feel like the phone offers some sense of security. (And to be honest, I use my iPhone 7 Plus to track where they are.)
For parents, a child having a phone is about safety and convenience.
However, the more astounding benefit has been the convenience it offers. We’re able to message the girls at school (or they can message us FROM school). The days of yelling out into the streets for our kids to come home are long gone. We message them to come home from the neighbor’s house. We add doctor appointments to the calendar and schedule family events. They aren’t in the dark about when to be where because the information is readily available. At the same time, they have their own calendars for scheduling school activities, sports practices, rehearsals and more.
The key is to approach it responsibly. They don’t need the latest and greatest phone. Upgrade yours to an iPhone 8 or iPhone X and hand down your old one to the kids. Check out our list of things to do when kids get their first phone. If they leave the house, the phone goes with them. Teach them about phone etiquette and set parental ground rules. Until they are 18 and out of the house, Scott and I can look at their phones, log into their apps, respond to their friends and treat the phone like a tool and not a toy. The girls must dock their phone by a specified time each night… not only does this force them to charge their devices but it also gives us a daily opportunity to check up on them if we need to.
The answer to how old a child should be before they get their first phone varies based on what your child is involved in and how responsible they are. One thing is for sure… parents reap the benefits of it as well.
What do you feel is the biggest advantage of kids having phones?