I know a man with three kids, all older than his brother’s kids. I overheard him saying with a touch of disdain, “I can’t believe Dacota doesn’t even have a smartphone.” Dacota was 11. All of his kids had smartphones well before age 11.
Dacota’s father probably doesn’t want his daughter exposed to cyberbullying or online stalking, but on the other hand – a smartphone could be a lifesaver for her if she were to ever be abducted. Parents often ask me, “should kids have cell phones?” There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to giving your children cell phones – especially at a young age.
Advantages of Banning Smartphones For Kids
- A cell phone shouldn’t be a babysitter. It forces the old-fashioned way of communicating face-to-face and encourages family participation.
- Forces non-anonymous communication. No strangers, less dangers.
- Eliminates being tricked by an online predator into meeting that predator.
- Eliminates cyberbullying and questionable online behavior that’s more easily done anonymously.
- Frees parents from worrying that their child will download an inappropriate app.
- Prevents kids from video-chatting with strangers and sharing explicit images.
- Parents won’t worry about electronic communication stunting social development leading to addiction.
Advantages of Allowing Kids to Have Smartphones
- Can be a godsend to socially awkward, shy kids who do poor with face-to-face interaction, always worrying about their impression, their body language, if their smile looks forced or laugh sounds fake.
- The child who lacks the nerve to assert himself in person can do so online—without coming off as a bully. This may even prime them for developing more assertive skills in person.
- A child in danger can press a button and instantly summon help, whether they’ve been abducted, are lost, or injured.
- Parents can monitor the child in realtime.
- Parents can instantly connect with the child instead of wondering where they are.
- Allows kids to keep up with technology.
Social Skills Development
This is a big issue. But don’t we all know that before the invention of smartphones, many children were already struggling with these issues? And conversely, many kids who have a mobile device at their hip have excellent face-to-face social skills.
Practice with in-person communication doesn’t always make perfect. A geeky awkward child can practice speaking before several people in person a thousand times and still not be very good at it. It’s like being pricked with a needle: the thousandth prick hurts just as much as the first prick.
Should Kids Have Cell Phones? Sure, With a Few Important Restrictions.
- A compromise is in order. Kids as young as 11 may benefit from a smartphone simply because it will allow their parents to track their location. The child can also summon for help if in danger.
- Consider filtering software to prevent access to inappropriate sites.
- Get a feature phone (a “dumb phone”) that allows for direct communications without the worry of accessing the internet.
- Rules should be enforced, such as no cell phones at the dinner table, and the downloading of apps should be approved by the parents.
- Parents should have passwords to their child’s accounts—or there will be no accounts!
- Kids should be encouraged to report bullying or suspicious online behavior.
Frankly, I think it’s a bit risky to give a kid full blown access to the internet under the age of 16. You wouldn’t give them the keys to the car if they weren’t safe, and the internet is no different. There are plenty of sites that are just a click away that can damage their young minds. As parents, we control the information flow. If they’ve seen something they shouldn’t have, it’s because we allowed it or, at the very least, didn’t do enough to prevent it.