Cellphones are useful, but parents need to set some rules

July 12, 2012 | Posted in: Elementary, High School, Middle Years | with 0 Comments

There are times as a parent when it is hard to stick to your guns.

That was the case several years ago when our second child desperately wanted a cellphone.

“When you are 13,” we said. That was the age at which her older sister had gotten a phone, and we felt it was an appropriate age to allow her access to that technology.

Then came “the bowling incident.”

It was a Friday night middle school event. We dropped her off; she bowled with friends, and then got a ride home from a friend’s mom. It was kind of the mom to offer her a ride; the problem was that a different mom expected to pick her up. The second mom called us, concerned. “I can’t find her anywhere.” It took a little more than 5 minutes to locate our daughter, but the anxious feeling we had for that brief period of time was enough to change our thinking.

Yes, she was only 12. But we wanted to be able to reach her, and we wanted her to be able to reach us – in case of emergency or to let us know where she was.

We broke our “rule” and got her a phone, a move we didn’t regret for the peace of mind it gave us all – particularly that fall when she started playing school sports. Texting – of course – became a significant part of her life. But she could also communicate with us more easily about where she was or when her team bus would arrive back at school. (See Safety Web for tips on setting rules for teen phone use.)

The discussion about an “appropriate” age for a child to have a cellphone happens in families every day. For some, the answer is “when they can pay for it on their own,” while others acquire phones for children as young as 5 years old. (See this Boston Globe story)

The average age at which children get their first phone has declined steadily over the past decade. According to research for the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the typical American gets their first cellphone at about 12 or 13 years old – down from 16 in 2004. In 2004, 45 percent of teens had cellphones. By 2011, that figure rose to 77 percent.

Cellphones have become the social tool of choice among teens. According to the Pew youth phone usage study, texting is the primary use of cellphones among 12- to 17-year-old kids. After that, teens are using their phones for (gasp!) calls, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and email, in that order. They also use phones to take and share pictures, listen to music and play games.

But while there are benefits to children having access to such technology, experts caution parents to beware of the potential negative uses, such as bullying, sending photos containing nudity (sexting) and texting while driving. For more information on conversing with your child about cellphone safety, visit online at Netsmartz

Like any piece of technology our children have access to, it’s important to ensure they are using technology in an appropriate way, After all, if we are footing the bill, they should be playing by our rules.

In the end, it’s up to each of us to determine for our own family what age is appropriate for a child to have a cellphone. Whether they are 5 or 15, we know best if our children are truly ready for the responsibility that comes with having a cellphone.

MORE READING:

“What’s the right age to give kids a cellphone.” www.msnbc.msn.com

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