Is your child coming home from school or from their friend's house begging for their own phone? Do they see others in their age group with phones and wonder why they can't have their own device?
Deciding on the right age to allow your child to have their own phone is a relatively new quandary. In the past, guardians only had to worry about landline use, which involved a much different set of challenges than we need to consider now, given the powers of modern mobile devices. Between internet access, text messages, and photo/video sharing capabilities, phone usage has totally changed.
Add to that complexity the fact that every family is unique. What one person does for their family might not work for yours, and vice versa. But most families face this decision eventually, so here is some food for thought on children and their use of cell phones.
Keep reading to find out if there is a “right” age to give a child a cell phone, what the pros and cons of kids having their own cell phone are, how to tell if your child is ready for the responsibility, and what phone safety tips you should keep in mind.
Then, we’ll review how families can access the relationship-enhancing powers of technology with the help of Kinoo.
Is There a “Right” Age for a Kid To Get a Phone?
Ultimately, there isn’t a perfect age to get a phone. Like most things in parenting, deciding when to give your child their own phone is a gray area. Deciding on the best time to get a phone for your child depends on your comfort level, your family’s needs, and your child’s maturity level.
The average age for receiving a first phone is between 12 and 13 years old. However, It doesn’t matter what other families are doing; what does matter is what makes the most sense for your family. You may even decide that each of your kids would benefit from receiving a phone at a different age.
How Do You Know if Your Child Is Ready?
While we may not be able to provide you with an official parents' guide to your child’s phone readiness (how great would it be if one existed?), we can help you sort through your thoughts to inform your decision.
Here are a few questions that can clarify when your child is ready for their first phone:
Do They Need To Have a Phone?
The first thing to ask yourself is if there is a need for your child to have a phone. If they are often away from home - staying after school for extracurricular activities, out with friends, or just generally active and busy - a mobile phone will make it easier for you to reach them.
In this case, a phone can be both a communication and a safety tool. Young adventurers can be expected to check in when they reach their destination or update you if there are any delays or changes in plans so that you know they are safe and sound.
Are They Able To Keep Track of Their Belongings?
No one knows your baby better than you. Is their room tidy, or does it look like a mini-tornado went through? Most phones cost hundreds of dollars, some even reaching over a thousand. With such a large investment, your teen or tween must be able to keep track of the essentials before taking on the responsibility of having a phone.
A significant investment like a phone requires intentional care and maintenance. To help protect your investment, find a phone case that’s sturdy enough for even an active kid.
Cases can help prevent scratches or broken screens. Whether it’s the first cell phone or the 15th phone, a solid case and screen protector are wise investments. You might want to consider insurance too. After all, accidents do happen (even to grown-ups)!
Are They Responsible Enough To Follow Your Rules?
Your child needs to be responsible enough to physically care for the phone and follow the usage rules you set in place. Rules surrounding phone use are typically set to keep your child safe from unsavory content, or to fit into your family norms around screen and talk time. Your child should be able to take on the responsibility of sticking to your rules before they can be trusted with a phone. Adolescents thrive when given responsibility, but too much can be overwhelming at a young age. What’s suitable for a 15-year-old may not be acceptable for a five to eight-year-old.
Are They Mature Enough To Follow Phone Etiquette?
With the new independence that a phone provides, keep in mind that your child will have access to the big, wide, virtual world of the internet, and the ability to text, use social media, or even make a good old-fashioned phone call to almost anyone.
Before letting them loose into the great unknown, it's essential to share the dos and don’ts of phone etiquette. Guidelines may include appropriate times to call or text friends, what types of content are not appropriate, or what is ok to post on social media and what is not. Basically, kids need to learn a new set of social skills for the digital age.
What Are the Benefits of Cell Phones?
Phones and social media access can have some downsides, but there is definitely a silver lining. Here are some benefits:
1. Personal Safety
Gone are the days when everyone had a home phone, and payphones were plentiful. Youth today have likely never even seen a payphone, much less used one.
The ability to contact others if there is an emergency (or to prevent one) creates a feeling of independence for your child while keeping parents, grandparents, and other family members up to date on their comings and goings.
In addition, you can now download and enable one of the several apps that allow you to track where the cell phone is located, giving you the knowledge of where your child is located should you need to know (since of course, once they have a phone they will always have it on them!)
Phones not only allow your child to contact you in an emergency, but also to access emergency services if needed. No one wants to think about a situation where their child needs to call 9-1-1, but you may help to know that the option is there.
2. Tech Savvy-ness
It’s no secret: we live in a tech-supported world. Your child will need to use tech in day-to-day life for social reasons, academic reasons and, eventually, for professional reasons.
Today, phones are used to research project topics, turn in assignments, communicate with teachers, and apply for jobs (one day if not now). Practicing with tech early on is one key to promoting technological literacy.
3. Stay Connected With Friends and Family
What is a phone for if not to bring you closer communication with friends and family? While calling is still the core reason to own a phone, video calling has become more and more popular with time and as video capabilities have improved.
But kids today often say they don’t love making conversation in calls, or even over video chat, especially if the person on the other end is an older loved one.
Enter Kinoo. With a play-and-learn system like Kinoo, your child can not only make video calls, but build real connections with far-away family in a fun, engaging way that helps them learn academic and social skills that last a lifetime. While on a Kinoo call with a grandparent or other loved one, your child can play games, make gratitude cards, go fishing, bake cookies, and so much more while learning new skills and building relationships with their relatives.
What Are the Disadvantages of Cell Phones?
Phones can be a beneficial tool, but they may also have some disadvantages. Arm yourself and your loved ones with knowledge about the potential dangers, like:
1. The Risk of Cyberbullying
One of the biggest disadvantages of phones is the prevalence of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is bullying through the use of technology. Bullying is never okay, but cyberbullying takes bullying to a new level.
Cyberbullying is often anonymous but is conducted in places that other peers can see, like on social media. Harassment can come in the form of mean comments or posting intentionally hurtful content directed at a specific individual.
Cyberbullying is unique because while physical bullying stops when the bully leaves, the virtual world follows our little ones home because the bully can travel through the web.
Unfortunately, we can’t stop every cyber bully, but we can help our little ones understand the dangers and discuss what is right and wrong. Be sure to keep the lines of conversation open so that your child will feel comfortable talking to you about cyberbullying.
Encourage liberal use of the “block” button and let your kids know that adults are here to help. Reaching out to school counselors, teachers, and administrators can end cyberbullying.
2. Technology Can Be Isolating
While phones bring amazing connections with friends and family, these devices can also decrease face-to-face communication. Kids may want to spend more time in their rooms chatting with friends virtually than playing with them outside. Setting clear boundaries around cell phone use will make sure you still see their eyes and faces, not just the backs of their phone cases.
While phones can sometimes be isolating, they can also facilitate communication and build bonds, especially over long distances. Long-distance families are more common than ever. Luckily, unique video calling apps like Kinoo can bridge the gap between loved ones.
However, video calls can be challenging for younger children with shorter attention spans. Naturally, these kiddos love the family member on the other end of the call but have trouble focusing when a game of tag is happening in the backyard.
The families behind Kinoo are here to help solve these issues and improve long-distance family relationships. Kinoo’s patented video calling technology engages younger kids in exciting co-play through a number of virtual games and activities. What are your little one’s favorite after-school activities? Fantasy play? Cooking? Exploring?
All of these games and more exist in Kinoo’s ever-growing, professionally-developed library of fun, learning activities. Kinoo is compatible with iPhones and iPads, creating a safe way to engage with smartphone use in a structured and safe environment with loved ones.
What Are the Top Safety Tips for Phone Use?
When it’s time to get a phone, explain the responsibility a phone brings and the non-negotiable safety tips.
For example, try to…
Set Clear Boundaries
Before you dictate rules to your maturing kid, try sitting down and having an open and honest conversation about what you expect when they are using the phone. You can create rules and boundaries that you’re both comfortable with together.
Once you have your boundaries set, write and post the list near a phone charging area. It serves as a good reminder for everyone. Yes, grownups, that means us too! If you’ve decided there are no phones at the dinner table, that rule should apply to everyone. Use this time to connect with your family face to face.
Set Parental Controls
When using a phone, your child is at the risk of seeing things that may not be age-appropriate. Many apps allow you to set parental controls that prevent inappropriate content from being shown to your child.
Part of your rules for having a phone may be that you will have visibility to any activity your child does on the phone. Letting your kiddos know that you will require this upfront will make this feel like less of an invasion of privacy.
Determine Appropriate Screen Times
Handing a kid a personal phone can be like letting them loose in a free candy store! They'll never want to put down this entertainment box.
Think about how hard it is for us as adults to manage our screen time use. By setting clear expectations of appropriate screen times, kids will learn when and where phone use is acceptable.
A common phone rule that many families enact is to make bedrooms and bathrooms a no-phone zone. You can set up a phone-charging station away from the bedroom for phones to charge at night while everyone is sleeping. Such rules promote safe phone practices and make sure your kids are not on their phones all night long.
Setting precise screen times will stop growing minds from being consumed by phones, with boundaries that will help as they mature into adulthood.
Keep Open Communication
Deciding on when to introduce phones, specifically smartphones, is a new phenomenon for families. This isn’t a parenting question we can ask our own parents about. We are experiencing this new milestone together. There will likely be questions or changes to the rules as we adapt.
The best way to navigate this new frontier is to encourage open communication. Allow your kid to come to you no matter what. Together, you can come up with a solution to any problem.
Tech Time Can Be Family Time
Not surprisingly, there is no rule book for deciding when younger ones should have their own phone. By considering a few factors like responsibility, communication tactics, and rule-following, you’ll know when the right time is.
Phones come with both advantages and disadvantages. If you feel your little one is ready for this next step in maturity, go for it! By practicing a few safety tips, you can keep your child safe.
At Kinoo, our goal is to bring families closer together no matter how far apart. Whether your child is on their own phone or on the family tablet, they can have an engaging video chat with far-away family members and learn positive skills that will last them a lifetime.