Should Kids Have Cell phones?

Should kids have cell phones? 

I was thinking about the future and how my son will be asking me in a few years ¨daddy, can I get a cell phone?  

After contemplating and googling for a few hours, I think I figured it out. I am absolutely going to get him a cell phone when he is older. It is a safety issue primarily and that is likely the most important issue. It´s also the perfect thing to threaten to take from him to get him to comply. Now let´s look into what age he should get it, the limits, the rules of usage and if I should monitor. 

Before we get started, I have some crazy and some funny statistics for you about kids and cell phone use. If you want to know more about cell phone statistics and kids, Influence Central has a lot more, but I picked the most interesting ones for you. This first one isn’t about kids, but crazy none the less. Analytics firm Flurry says that American consumers average 5 hours a day on their mobile devices! The average kid gets their first cell phone at 10.3 years old. 31% of parents say that their child texts them while they are in the same house. We will have some more statistics later in the post. 

What age should kids get a phone? 

Photo by Kaku Nguyen

I think this is the most important question to be asking. According to Inc., Bill Gates didn’t allow his kids to get phones until they were 14. But I don’t think that is the way to go about making the decision. I think it should be way more situational than just the age. According to the same article, James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media feels the same way I do. The article says ¨In the Steyer household, kids have to be in high school before they can get a phone—after demonstrating they can exercise restraint and understand “the value of face-to-face communication.” 

After reading a lot of tips, forums and articles, these will be my requirements when it comes to getting my son a cell phone: 

1) He must be in junior high unless there is a very good reason that he is by himself a lot. 

2) Does he need it for safety reasons or does he just want to be cool? 

3) He has to be doing well in school. 

4) He has to be the type to be trusted. 

5) He has to not be a bully. 

6) He has to comply with my rules. 

What rules come with the cell phone? 

Verywell Family has a great list of rules that I will summarize and alter just a bit so that it meets my requirements. I will also add that I will ease up on some of these rules after testing the waters, seeing how responsible he is and his age. Phones for kids is tough and you know your child better than I do. There is no blanket statement of rules that works for everyone.  

  • No using cell phones as entertainment until whatever responsibilities need to be taken care of are done. This could be homework, chores, getting ready, etc. 
  • Follow the school´s rules on cell phones 
  • No cell phones at the dinner table 
  • No cell phones during family time 
  • During movies and car ride, he needs to figure out if it is an activity we are doing together or if it is ok to ignore what is going on. 
  • Homework and chores come first 
  • He has to turn in his phone before bedtime 
  • No phones while driving unless it is GPS 
  • He can´t have a phone alone in his bedroom. This will go double for if I ever have a girl. 
  • He needs to be doing physical and after-school activities. 
  • I reserve the right to blackmail him or punish him by taking his phone away 

Should parents limit screen time? 

Photo by Stas Knop

Yes, you should absolutely limit your son or daughter´s screen time. Unfortunately, way too much screen time is the norm. How many times have you seen a group of people sitting together and all of them are just staring at their phones. A phone for kids is like crack, and is probably the biggest addiction in the western world. China has rehabilitation centers for online addiction and has labeled it as a disorder. You can read about it here, it is a genuine issue. There has been tons of research done by companies on how to make their apps addictive. 

 There are absolutely consequences to too much screen time and I hope that you take this pretty seriously. It has shown to cause obesity, depression, violence, educational problems, sleep problems and behavior issues.  

Bill gates also has a comment about that in the same Inc. article mentioned above. It states that in the Gates household ¨Mobile devices are banned at the dinner table (this goes for kids and parents alike). For younger kids, overall screen time is even more limited: ´We often set a time after which there is no screen time, and in their case that helps [the kids] get to sleep at a reasonable hour.´” 

I think I have found some good tips on dealing with this issue: 

  • Make screen time a privilege. Remember, you are giving them something that can actually cause some negative effects if it isn’t used properly. As much as they may think that they NEED a cell phone, they don´t.  
  • Show them a good example. I am being a bit hypocritical about this because I am totally addicted to my phone and my wife is even worse. But it´s actually pretty bad for a kid to see their parent put a priority on their phone instead of them. It makes them seem less important than the phone and has been shown to do some damage. I wrote about it in my article Benefits of a Family Vacation.   
  • Push them to not focus on their phones while doing something else. If they are doing one thing, focus on that one thing. Trying to multitask just makes you bad at two things. 
  • Have numerous conversations and warnings about the dangers of the internet, music, porn, social media, predators, etc. 
  • Have family activities that don’t have any electronics involved. 

Should you spy (monitor content, calls/text/track with gps) on my child´s cellphone? 

Yes, the answer is yes. I´m going to say however, that you should not hide what you’re doing. If our parents had a way to track us with something that we would have thanked them for, they would have jumped on it. Not only would they never have had to say ¨Where were you?¨ they could have seen when we got there, how long we were there, and we could have never lied about it. In all honesty, I didn’t really lie about where I was, but A LOT of people did. I was more likely to leave what we were doing there out. 

I know some people are cautious about monitoring what their kid is doing on their cell phone. I really understand that and the idea weirds me out too. But there are some pretty big dangers out there. So many predators, bad influences and there is always a story about some poor kid that was bullied online until he or she committed suicide. Kids tend to not like to tell their parents about bullies and feel embarrassed. These tragedies could have been prevented pretty easily if the parents looked into their online activities just a little bit. I shouldn’t have to say this, but as they get older and show that they are responsible, give them some freedom. A 13-year-old is in much more danger and needs to be watched much closer than a 17-year-old. 

My youth pastor said that he let his daughter have social media but under the condition that he and his wife had all the usernames and passwords. I couldn’t believe this idea when I was a kid but I get it now. Since 50% of kids have social media accounts by the age of 12, I googled Online Predator Statistics for you so that you don’t have to be put on whatever list I just got put on. I also checked Bullying Statistics as well. SentryPC gave some good statistics and I added some more for you: 

One in five U.S. teenagers who regularly log onto the internet say they have received an unwanted sexual solicitation via the Web.  Solicitations were defined as requests to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk, or to give personal sexual information. 
-Crimes Against Children Research Center 

25% of children have been exposed to unwanted pornographic material online. 
-Crimes Against Children Research Center 

Only 33% of households with internet access are actively protecting their children with filtering or blocking software. 
-Center for Missing and Exploited Children 

75% of children are willing to share personal information online about themselves and their family in exchange for goods and services. 
-eMarketer 

Only approximately 25% of children who encountered a sexual approach or solicitation told a parent or adult. 
-Crimes Against Children Research Center 

One in 33 youth received an aggressive sexual solicitation in the past year.  This means a predator asked a young person to meet somewhere, called a young person on the phone, and/or sent the young person correspondence, money, or gifts through the U.S. Postal Service. 
-Your Internet Safety Survey 

77% of the targets for online predators were age 14 or older.  Another 22% were users ages 10 to 13. 
-Crimes Against Children Research Center 

Over 50% of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying. 
i-SAFE Foundation 

Only 10% of teens tells a parent if they have been a cyber bully victim. 
-Harford County Examiner 

More than 33% of young people have experienced threats online. 
i-SAFE Foundation 

Parents’ restrictions (texting, social media platforms, apps, timing) on their kids’ phones increased from 14% to 34% since our last survey.  
-Influence Central’s 2016 Digital Trends Study 

While not many parents have embraced the ability to use Smartphones’ GPS capabilities to track down their kids, the number who has used this function doubled from 7% in 2012 to 15% in 2016. 
– Influence Central’s 2016 Digital Trends Study 

Only 44% of kids have some monitoring with online activity. 
– Influence Central’s 2016 Digital Trends Study 

My point is, get a filter and monitor their online behavior. Make sure that you can see their social media, get their login information and monitor what they are doing. But I want to reiterate, you need to be open with them that you are doing this. You can´t do this behind their back, it will cause trust to be broken. Over time, if they show responsibility, loosen your grip and let them have more freedom. 

Why should kids have a cell phone? 

Photo by Anastasiya Gepp

There are some good reasons that I have seen out there on the interweb. They may be written by a teenager trying to get a phone, but they’re still good ideas. The number one reason in my opinion is safety. As kids get more independent, they need a way to contact you. Even more important, they need a way to contact emergency services if something really bad happens.  

It can also be a reward and used for punishment later on. As addicted as they may get to the devices, you can use that addiction to your advantage. Need a little motivation to get home on time or bring their grades up? Boom, it´s right there in their pocket. 

Cell phones for kids can also be a big step toward independence. As scary as it may be, independence is a very important thing for a kid to learn. It´s also a difficult thing for some parents to want to allow  happen. Yet, it is inevitable. 

I hope this gives you some idea on what your next step will be when it comes to buying your child a cell phone. If not, I at least hope that you realize that it is a bigger deal than some realize. 

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