At What Age Should Your Child Have a Phone?
A cell phone can be a useful device, but having a phone also comes with responsibilities. For kids, it means increased exposure to different worlds. If you're considering getting your child a phone, you want to be certain they’re old enough to understand and handle the risks involved. Eventually, your child will own a phone. The question is: when is the right time?
A survey revealed that teenagers received their first phone between the ages of 12 and 13. This may seem a reasonable age to grant your kids the privilege of owning a phone. But the decision to give your child a phone is personal and should not be influenced merely by statistics and popular practice. Before getting your child a cell phone, here are important questions to consider.
Does my child need a phone?
If you focus on the benefits that your child will derive from having a cell phone, you'd readily answer yes to the above question. Phones are, for a fact, necessary. A phone can be a handy educational and social tool if your child uses it properly. They can use it to carry out research for school assignments, to reach you when you two are apart, and to connect with their friends.
The benefits of a phone are pretty obvious, but so are the dangers. With the alarming increase in the rate of cyberbullying and sextortion (a situation where a person blackmails a child or teenager into sending them sexually explicit images of themselves in exchange for a favor), parents question the wisdom of exposing their children to these vices too early. So if you feel hesitant about giving your child a phone, your concerns are understandable.
Parents should not be quick to dismiss the idea because of the anticipated dangers. A quick tip is to weigh the pros and cons carefully. Do the benefits outweigh the risks? What is your child's motive for wanting a phone? Is it just because all his friends have one, or are there genuinely valid reasons for his request?
If you eventually decide that your child needs a phone, but you're skeptical about getting him a smartphone, a safer alternative is to get him a basic phone that lacks internet access but allows him to make calls and send texts.
Can my child handle the responsibilities?
When you give your child a phone, you grant them a certain level of independence. Is your child ready for such independence? Maturity isn't always dependent on age, so you should not assume that your child is mature enough to have a phone just because the child has attained a certain age.
A child shows by his actions that he's responsible and worthy of trust. The child does not develop these qualities overnight. Over time, has your child proven that you can trust them to handle certain responsibilities? Do they already show self-restraint with other devices, like the TV, for instance?
A major concern here is that the internet has become a base for sex trafficking, and teens are vulnerable targets. According to a recent report, 27% of all human trafficking victims worldwide are children. Be sure that your child is aware of these dangers and knows how to recognize them, or at least will readily report to you if they ever feel threatened.
Sexting, the act of sending/receiving sexually suggestive text messages and photographs, poses an even greater threat. Sexting occurs in subtle manners, and it takes a perceptive child to recognize when an innocent chat with a friend turns into a sext. Again, parents should teach their kids what they need to know about sexting. It may be an uncomfortable topic, but it is necessary for their online safety.
Am I ready for the responsibilities?
It is not enough to buy your kids a phone. You should be ready to help them use it appropriately. As a parent, you are responsible for your child's online safety and general welfare. So as you ask your child whether they're ready for a phone, be sure to also ask yourself if you're ready for the new responsibility. Are you up for the challenge of training, supervising, restricting, and protecting your child's use of a smartphone?
This does not mean that you should constantly look over your child's shoulder to know what they're up to on their phone, as this may breed distrust. Instead, cultivate an open relationship with your child so that they will quickly open up to you about their activities online. Set ground rules and screen time limits, clearly stating the consequences if your child breaks any of the rules.
About Mission Haven
At Mision Haven, we believe that these conversations are very important. Online safety for kids is at the core of every campaign aimed at reducing sexual abuse of kids and domestic minor sex trafficking. One big part of it all is that parents have a major role to play.
The Mission Haven runs a fully-equipped shelter that takes in and caters to the mental, social, and economic needs of kids and teenagers who have been exposed to all forms of sexual abuse, including commercial sex exploitation and sex trafficking. To give, volunteer, or become a partner, please contact us today.