All parents wonder: at what age should we introduce our kiddos to devices and gadgets? Cell phones are an important tool for communication (and for Mama’s peace of mind!), and a great way to teach children responsibility. Yet there are no definitive guidelines about when to give kids their own phone, how to regulate it once introduced, and how to keep kids safe from the downsides (and scary parts) of having the Internet accessible at your thumbs.
The moms in our #Momforce by Chatbooks Facebook Group have talked about this issue a few times recently. While this is certainly a personal decision for every parent, we gathered some of the most helpful insights and actionable ideas from the comments to share with you.
It depends on the child. If you have a responsible, mature child who you would trust with a phone, go ahead and give them a phone when you think they are ready! Some parents in the #Momforce by Chatbooks Facebook Group gave their kids their own phone as young as 8 years old. Others waited until their children turned 11 years old, and many chose to wait until 13 years old. (Some even waited until 17 or 18 years old—so there’s really no right answer!)
One #Momforce member shared that her oldest daughter, who is now 12 years old, has had a phone for 2 years and has been very responsible with it. However, many of her daughter’s friends (both boys and girls) have handled the responsibility of a phone poorly: they’ve lost or broken their phones, purchased apps or upgrades they shouldn’t have, gone over their data, and otherwise used them inappropriately. She recommended considering all of these factors (and to set expectations appropriately) when you get started. Another #Momforce member shared that her eldest, who is a boundary-pusher, didn’t get a phone until 15 years of age, while her youngest was trustworthy enough at age 10. Make the choice that’s right for your child.
Consider a flip phone. While we all remember the days of clunky flip phones, they’ve come a long way and can be a great first phone. A flip phone means it’s truly a device for communication and makes it more difficult to open social media and surf the Internet. Nearly half of moms in the #Momforce Facebook group voted for a flip phone (instead of a smartphone) as the first phone for their children.
A few moms warned that choosing a flip phone means that your child will likely require a tablet for reading and homework. One mom found it so annoying to have (and keep track of) so many devices—including an iPod for music, Kindle for reading, and flip phone for calls—that she decided to switch to smartphones and has never looked back. However, if your priority is limiting the functionality and access to the Internet for your child, a flip phone is a great first choice!
If your kids aren’t ready for a phone, try a GizmoGadget. Many #Momforce moms recommended the GizmoGadget, a watch that allows kids to text and use GPS. The watch has additional parental control features, such as the ability to silence the watch during school hours or whenever you need your kid to be focused (such as homework time). These watches are only available at Verizon stores but don’t require a Verizon phone plan to use it for just $5 a month. This watch, or a similar gadget, can be a great in-between product if you don’t want your kid to have a phone, but would like a way to stay in contact.
Find parental controls that work for you. Once you decide to give your children a phone, there are many great programs and apps to help parents control their kids’ smartphones. Many #Momforce members suggested limiting what apps children can access and how much (and when) browsing is allowed. An iPhone has particularly good controls on its own, from the ability to block downloading paid apps, to blocking websites that aren’t age appropriate. In addition, there are many parental control apps and options. A few worth investigating include FamilyBase for Verizon and Circle.
Set (and reinforce) phone-related expectations. At the end of the day, the moms in the #Momforce Facebook group agreed the most important part of giving your child a phone is the conversation that comes along with it. Make it clear that having a phone is a privilege, not a right (and reiterate that constantly). If a child really wants to do or see something online, they’ll find a way to do it. The most important thing to teach them is how to be safe when using the Internet and to maintain open communication so they can learn from missteps.
One #Momforce member recommended having regular conversations about what is appropriate and what to stay away from, since technology can change so quickly. Another #Momforce member recommended checking the phone as often as you like, especially at the beginning, to make it clear that Mom knows what’s happening on their phones.
The decision of when to give your child a phone is a tough one. When you consider the good versus the bad, and what is best for each of your children and for your family, you’ll make a great decision. You got this, mama!