Can You Hear Me Now? My Child Is Begging For A Cell Phone!
I vividly remember when I started the campaign to get my own phone in my room. I was a child of the 80’s. The idea of sitting on my bed and chatting with my closest girlfriends for hours opened up a whole new world to me. My parents weighed the pros and cons before finally acquiescing. Of course, today’s parents face an even larger conundrum. The cell phone not only opens up lines of communication with friends but also exposes our children to the expanses of the internet.
1) Do you have time to monitor their activity?
When your child gains access to a cell phone with internet access (or any electronic device with internet access for that matter), you’ve effectively extended their playground. Make sure that you are putting boundaries in place. Expect your child to test limits. Just like they will make attempts to swing higher, and jump farther, resulting in falls from time to time, you can expect similar mishaps in their online world. It’s best to set expectations and rules about phones early so that both you and your child know what’s expected and appropriate for your family. There is an abundance of apps designed to help, but the bottom line is that you have to be actively involved to ensure that you know what’s going in the process.
2) Can they direct their attention despite the siren call of the cell?
It’s no secret that smart phones are a huge distraction. Study after study shows that the mere presence of a cell phone reduces attention and focus. If your child already struggles with focusing in the face of something more interesting (like a message from a friend or that new TikTock notification), they may not be ready for the serious power of the cell phone.
3) How do they handle their social relationships?
A child who is easily led by peers in-person may be an easy target online. Technology amplifies social relationships while providing a sense of anonymity. Parents should be aware of their child’s vulnerability, both to be victims and perpetrators of poor behavior (children are often both). Setting boundaries with peers is something that you can help your child work on. Open, nonjudgmental communication with sensitive feedback provides opportunities for self-reflection and growth.
4) Are YOU ready for awkward conversations?
You can find anything online, intentionally or inadvertently. Unfortunately, some things can’t be unseen or unlearned. You have to be prepared to have conversations with your kids early about topics they gain exposure to online. It is imperative that you be the accurate and trusted source sought out for information. Remember: If you zip through conversations that make you uncomfortable early on, your kids will do the same.
5) Will they come to you with problems too big for them to handle?
As I mentioned before, we expect the road to adulthood to have ups and downs. We want to give our children opportunities to test limits while the chances of failure are small and problems are manageable. As the parent, you are better equipped, with more tools in your toolbox to manage stressors. Consider whether your child has shown good judgment in the past about when to ask for help from an adult about peer issues. Additional Tip: If your child gets a smart phone make sure your child knows which situations require adult intervention and be sure to show how happy you are with their choice (regardless of the decisions that may have lead up to the need for intervention).
When a child should receive a cell phone is not cut and dry. It’s a decision that each family must weigh and consider based on their own circumstances and the personality of the child. Children are not “tiny adults.” Their brains are not fully developed. They don’t yet have life experience. It’s our job to guide and protect them by setting boundaries with the hopes of creating independent, self-reliant, and empathetic adults.