NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – How many times have you heard, “All of my friends have a cell phone!” The pressure is on to buy cell phones for our kids, but when is the right time?
“It’s so important to assess why does my child need a cell phone, and why do they want a cell phone?” says Sam Fabian, CHKD Community Outreach Manager.
Fabian says it’s not so much age, but rather, are our kids ready for a cell phone?
“Do they tend to remember to bring their lunch to school or the homework to school or their homework home? Do they tend to follow the rules of the house? Do you want to assess how can they handle a phone? Do they know it’s easy to lose? Do they keep track of things they’re supposed to keep track of?”
10 On Your Side’s Katie Collett asked parents on her Facebook page how they made the decision to get their child a cell phone.
Allison from Elizabeth City got her son a phone for his 11th birthday saying, “He has been very responsible with his online Nintendo account, only talking and playing with people he knows and is overall a very responsible, respectful child.”
Kelly from Gloucester says, “When they were old enough to be home by themselves and we don’t have a house phone.”
Michael from Portsmouth says, “As soon as he/she learns responsibility, as well as the purpose of having it. Parental setting applied of course.”
Fabian says it’s important to learn how to apply those parental settings.
“Then teach that to your child that, ‘Hey! This is what I am going to do to keep you safe’ if we get a phone, and then go over the rules of the house.”
She says you should set those rules before, not after, they get the phone. Rules could include a media-free zone during dinner and no phone in the room at night.
“AAP highly recommends not to have that phone there at night.”
Fabian also says it’s important to keep in mind, “The Surgeon General just came out with, children who are 13 and under should not have a phone or access to social media platforms.”
Teaching children the safe, correct way to use apps is also key.
“They intuitively know how to use the phone, but that does not mean they are responsible enough to know how to use it properly, and not go down paths that are unsafe. Understand what’s a friend. All of that is part of the teaching process.”
Some parents say they want their children to have a phone for safety reasons. However, you have to think about what those safety reasons are, and if the phone will truly help in that situation.
“I think sometimes we think that phones are the safety net, but the phone is only as good as that you can access it. So, if the child has it in their backpack, and they’re alone, they’re not necessarily safe. I don’t want parents to think that’s an automatic safety net for them if they find themselves alone. They have to have other skills to understand what it means to be safe.”
Fabian says there is a lot of good that can come from cell phones if kids are ready, but it’s imperative to make sure you pay attention to your child’s cell phone use while teaching them the potential dangers.
“You have to really be on top of it, just like you would when you hand over the car keys. You know, you want to know where they’re going. You want to know where they’re going on the cell phone.”
When making your decision as to whether or not to buy your child a cell phone, Fabian highly recommends going to the website healthychildren.org, and reading through the questions at this link.
She also suggests you take this PhoneReadyQuestionnaire to help decide if your child is ready for the responsibilities that come with owning a cell phone. Healthychildren.org states “The 10-question tool, developed by AT&T in collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics, helps you gauge your child’s behaviors, developmental maturity, and your family’s values to calculate one of three recommendations: ready, almost ready or not yet ready. Based on the results, you’ll get recommended next steps and resources to help you activate parental control settings, create a Family Media Plan and access tips to help your child have a safe and positive experience.”