Rapid advancements in technology in this day and age have and will continue to revolutionize the way we live our lives. While these technological advancements offer many benefits, they present a number of challenges to us as parents. One challenge is the simple notion of determining whether or not having the technology available is reason enough to equip our children with it.
Consider the cell phone, for example. This device affords the opportunity to communicate virtually anytime, anywhere and provides instant access to information and entertainment. Research indicates the cell phone is the most quickly adopted consumer technology in the history of the world. Over 90% of American adults own a cell phone, and while the number of child cell phone users is increasing, the average age of that user is decreasing. But how young is too young?
Before we answer this question, let’s take a look a few of the pros and cons of children and cell phones.
Safety. Cell phones offers a way for you and your child to reach one another in an emergency. In addition, the GPS function allows you a viable way to keep track of your child’s location.
Convenience/Accessibility. The device provides a way to connect with your children if they need to be picked up earlier due to a cancelled practice or you need to inform them of a change in plans.
Cost. With cell phone ownership comes the cost of hardware (including the initial purchase as well as potential replacement expenses due to loss, damage or theft), monthly fees, not to mention the additional charges associated with exceeding the established data plan.
Unexpected Consequences. Using the device exposes children to potential risks, such as the possibility of cyber predators, internet access dangers, the transmission of trackable questionable content, text and cyberbullying.
Distraction. Providing children with cell phones gives them the ability to connect 24/7, along with the potential for their involvement with the device to interfere with other activities, such as homework, chores, and face-to-face time with family and friends.
So How Young is Too Young?
Answer: It depends on the individual child.
While many have opinions regarding how old children should be before they are given access to a cell phone, it is actually not so much a question of age, but more of readiness. As the parent, it is up to you to determine whether your child is ready to handle the responsibility of cell phone use.
Here are 3 helpful questions to ask yourself to determine whether or not your child is ready:
1. Why? Why does your child want the responsibility of owning a cell phone? “Because all my friends have one!” is not a good reason to offer the privilege. If you determine there is legitimate merit in your child having his or her own phone, before committing to the expense and potential challenges related to child cell phone ownership, consider whether usage needs can be achieved through other means. For example, if your child needs an easy way to call home from extra-curricular activities, would it be better to start with the purchase of a prepaid family cell phone that could be borrowed by the child as needed?
2. Is my child ready for the responsibility? Owning a cell phone is a big responsibility. As mentioned previously, there is the potential that your child could lose or break the hardware or exceed the data plan limits. In addition, the device also has the capability to become a major distraction for children, luring them away from their other responsibilities and keeping them connected when they should otherwise be unplugged.
3. Is my child mature enough? Is your child ready to experience the freedom of cell phone usage as well as the related consquences? Can your child identify and deal with inappropriate text or internet content? Does your child understand the privacy risks of interacting with others by phone, text or through the internet?
If you’ve done your due diligence and have determined that your child is old enough in terms of his or her readiness for the responsibility of a cell phone, keep in mind your job has only just begun. As the parent, your continued role is to set the expectations and the example for cell phone use. Keep the lines of communication open and monitor usage to ensure your child is using the cell phone in a safe and responsible manner.