Aside from the purely pragmatic reasons, most kids want cell phones because they’re fun. Cell phones are so popular with tweens that some school boards have banned them. Elementary school-age kids, of course, want gizmos of their own — preferably smartphones equipped with games, texting and a funky case, or a colourful flip phone with a cute charm. Here’s what parents can do to ensure safe and responsible cell phone use:
Delay delay delay
Judy Arnall, a Calgary-based educator and author of Plugged-In Parenting, an instructional DVD about connecting with the digital generation, recommends holding off as long as possible to give kids their own phone. Because children are so rarely alone at this age, cell phones aren’t a necessity. “There are so many reasons, financially and socially, to wait,” she says. And as smartphone-addicted adults well know, phones can enable users to zone out from their surroundings — just like a video game or too much TV.
Buy a child-appropriate phone
When you decide your child is ready for a phone, consider one of the kid-marketed models; they look adorable and feature parental controls. For forgetful kids, a hand-me-down phone with prepaid minutes or a family plan may be more sensible. “Kids under eight lose a lot of things,” Arnall says. “If they lose their boots and their mittens, they will lose their phones.” Teaching responsible phone use — such as when it’s appropriate to talk or text in public — is also important. (You may have to better model this yourself.)
Consider the costs
Make sure your child understands the costs of calling and texting. If it’s a smartphone, you may want to disable data-hogging functions like internet access and email, or consider an iPod Touch: Many children in this age group are using the WiFi–based texting function, which doesn’t require a plan.
Monitor phone use
Arnall also advises parents to monitor a child’s phone use to make sure there’s no cyberbullying or text-message abuse going on.
A version of this article appeared in print in our April 2012 issue with the headline “Can you hear me now?” (p. 76).