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When Should My Child Get a Smartphone? Buckle up. Technology’s a bumpy road

(3-minute read) According to data firm Nielsen, 

The average teen sends and receives over 3000 texts a month. That means,

3000 possibilities to send something they may later regret.

3000 chances to make a mistake that can’t be undone.

This technology driven world is something everyone is still trying to figure out, including our kids, who are growing up surrounded by it (unlike us oldies).  And what’s worse, is that it’s constantly changing, so even once you think you have it figured out, something changes.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder we have to think long and hard about when to first hand over a cellphone to our children. We can easily justify the need for them to have one at younger ages, telling ourselves that it will allow us to be more connected. But ask yourself…is that really a valid reason?

When we were kids, somehow staying connected seemed to just work out. We were able to figure out who was picking us up from practice when we saw the cars pull up, or when our friend pulled us over to let us know that their mom was driving us home. We found a payphone and called our parents to tell them if we were staying after school for extra help. We heard mom scream down the block, “it’s time to come home,” when we were playing in the neighborhood. We learned where everyone was meeting up through chain calls. One way or another, people somehow ended up on the same page.

But now that we have constant access to communication, it seems like we feel compelled to utilize it.  

Once we hand over a phone, not only do we worry about what the future holds, we also worry about whether or not our child will have the self-discipline and maturity to manage the responsibility that comes along with it. Even worse, phones are a harbinger of the dangers lurking in the outside world that threaten to pop up and influence our children at any time, without you there to stop it.  Frankly, most kids are not ready for that responsibility before middle school…and even middle school is questionable.

The problem isn’t necessarily with kids today, as many like to assume. In fact, I’m willing to bet that my generation was even more irresponsible when it comes to drinking, driving, sexuality, and drug use. The problem is that, regardless of the generation, brain development during teenage years makes kids prone to self-centered and short-sighted behavior. So, technology (especially cell phones) just gives teenagers yet another outlet to act irresponsibly.

Knowing this, I was particularly cautious when I first handed my girls ipods (realizing they would be used for much more than their intended purpose – music).  IPods were simply the precursor to the highly coveted iPhone. To avoid misuse and to prep my daughters for what was to come, I created usage guidelines. As my daughters grew, so did the list of guidelines.

A few years later, when my daughter entered middle school with her first cell-phone, it was a whole new game. I quickly realized how much more responsibility it takes to manage something that gives you access to pretty much anything 24/7. But I wasn’t really sure how to circumvent the potential problems, drama, and/or dangers that could come from the newfound “freedom” her phone provided. So, naturally, I asked other moms with older children/teenagers for advice…my favorite thing to do. 

This opened my eyes to the common cell-phone misuses that I hear echoed time and time again.  As such, I felt compelled to share with all of my fellow Moms out there. Knowledge is power, and these points helped me understand which aspects are important to discuss with my children. And it also prompted me to incorporate them into our family’s “technology guidelines.”

Beware of these 5 Common Cell Phone Misuses

  1. Racking up hundreds of dollars in charges for games, movies, ringtones and potentially risky apps. As if the cost of the latest cell phones (and the bills they come with) weren’t enough already. But how can we blame children for these charges if we don’t first set the expectation?
  2. Homework distraction. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who has witnessed a text, Snapchat, or Facetime interrupting my child’s homework. But these distractions are often justified by children – saying they need access to academic apps, to discuss homework or study with friends.  Having phones during homework is the norm. Focus and grades often slip as a result.
  3.  Covertly texting. With so many useful apps, like alarms, flashlights, meditation, and schedule reminders, our kids can easily justify keeping their phone in their bedrooms overnight. But it also allows them to “covertly” use them under the pillow after bedtime. Aside from creating more opps to get in trouble, Blue light from electronic devices can sabotage sleep by confusing the body into thinking it’s time to be awake.
  4. Engaging with strangers, stalking As children grow, they tend to get better at hiding certain aspects of themselves from us. We like to think we know our kids and trust that they’ll act appropriately because we raised them right. But, unfortunately, when it comes to technology, very often all bets are off.  Whether it’s to get noticed in order to get more likes or to build self-esteem through seemingly romantic relationships, teenagers are often seeking approval and adoration from strangers. Many think that because it’s their camp friend’s friend, or a friend’s cousin, it’s safe. And maybe it is. But is it worth taking chances?
  5. Inappropriate communication and cyber bullying. The impact of friends, other peers, and societal influences during the tween years, combined with the virtual mask that cell phones provide, makes it easy for children to approach/treat people in a way we would probably not approve of.  Perhaps it’s a hurtful text or comment about a schoolmate. Or worse, half-naked selfies sent to a boyfriend. We may not want to believe that our children are capable of such senseless acts, but it’s just too easy to press a button without thinking about how things may unfold.

In order to reduce the risks mentioned above (as well as others), it’s important to properly communicate with your children about how to use their phone and supervise what’s going on.   

We’ve devised a “Family Technology Agreement” to help aid you in this process. In it, we outline some important considerations and practical tips to keep in mind when thinking about where to draw the line, as well as foster responsibility, respect and healthy habits when it comes to some of the things our kids use most: phones, computers, the internet, social media.

Interested in getting your hands on it? You should be…this stuff is important! Email us and we’ll send over a copy of our Family Technology Agreement that we’ve previously shared,

We also found this article for first time cell phone users to be super helpful. It outlines rules for responsibility.  Check it out.

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