Just for You – October

What Is the Right Age for a Cell Phone?

funny-kid-on-phoneAs you can imagine, there is no “one size fits all” answer to this very important question. To give you a quick answer, I do not think any child in elementary school should have a cell phone.  I have seen many kids with cell phones in 4th, 5th and 6th grade and I don’t think it’s necessary or beneficial.

James and I have an ongoing conversation about cell phones and who really wants them:  the parents or the children.  For the parent, a cell phone is very convenient when you have to pick up your child from practice after school.  It’s a nice feeling to know your child is a text away.

Yet, what is the trade off for convenience and having a parental leash on your child if you will?

Cell phones may provide convenience, but they also usher in many other issues like overuse, screen addiction, porn, gaming, social media, and cyberbullying.  Kids also don’t learn to solve their own problems when mom and dad are just a text away to fix everything.

I don’t think that trade off is worth it.

According to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation:

Most teens (85%) age 14-17 have a cell phone.

Many tweens/teens (69%) age 11-14 have a cell phone.

Some kids (31%) age 8-10 have a cell phone.

There are a few health considerations to consider before getting your child a phone according to WebMD which I think are helpful to keep in mind:

Radiation – Cell phones work by using radio waves.  Does that affect health – especially for kids who start using phones at a very young age while their brains are still developing?  Experts say longer studies are needed.

Impact on Sleep – If your child has a cell phone, will he/she actually go to sleep or will he/she stay up gaming or texting?  Will texts interrupt a good night’s sleep?  A study showed that 4 out of 5 teens with phones sleep with them on or next to their beds.

In addition to your child’s numerical age, you must think about their maturity level.  Although you may chuckle at God’s sense of humor in this, there is a second spurt of brain growth just before puberty (roughly age 11 in girls, age 12 in boys).  I would strongly caution parents of middle schoolers with this quote from Dr. Jay Giedd from the National Institute of Mental Health:

“Our leading hypothesis…is the ‘use it or lose it’ principle. If a teen is doing music or sports or academics, those are the cells and connections that will be hardwired.  If they’re lying on the couch or playing video games or [watching] MTV, those are the cells and connections that are going to survive.”

If your child is given a cell phone too soon, your child’s brain may become hardwired to their phone, instead of people, books, sports, hobbies, church, etc.

Consider how responsible your child is.  

Do they misplace things on a regular basis?  

Are they respectful of you, both in tone and obeying household rules?  

Can you trust your child to use a cell phone safely?

If you aren’t sure about any of these areas, then your child isn’t ready for a cell phone.

My 12-year-old middle schooler Ethan is responsible and trustworthy, but he does not (and will not) have a phone during middle school.  We don’t think he needs a phone.  He has an iPad issued from school for his homework.  He spends plenty of time on screens for school.  He’s welcome to use my phone if he wants to talk to a friend.  If he needs to reach me after school, he can borrow his friend’s phone (and he has).   If he needs to reach me at school, he can use the office phone.

For our family, we will re-visit the idea of getting our children a dumb phone (no Internet access) when they are in high school (and probably driving).

I encourage you to hold off putting that smart phone under the Christmas tree for as long as possible.  Definitely not in elementary school.  Personally I wouldn’t in middle school (making it harder for your boy to access porn, and for your girl to get rejected on social media is a good thing).  I would wait for high school, and not necessarily the freshmen year.

vintage-orange-phoneLastly, if your child says, “Mom.  Dad.  I’m the ONLY kid in my school who doesn’t have a cell phone,” you now have a response:

“Actually, 15% of teens don’t have a phone, 31% of tweens don’t, and 69% of kids don’t.”  Encourage your kids to find phone free friends, and have your teens check out this recent article in the Wall Street Journal about Teens Who Say No to Social Media.  

Teens are famous for going against the establishment right?  Have your kids go against the grain with their cell phone use.  It might be hard in the moment, but in the long run, your children will be healthier, happier, and wealthier because they didn’t grow up staring down.

Arlene Pellicane