We live in a world full of technology and, for many of us, our children understand it better than we do. Parents may feel pressured by their children to provide them with a cell phone at an early age but aren’t sure when children are actually ready for this responsibility. Along with the mobile phone comes the digital world access. You may not feel your child is ready for the internet, apps, and social media. The average age at which children are getting their first cellphone is 10 years old. So, why would a child in elementary school need a cell phone, let alone a smartphone? Most parents cite convenience and safety as the reason for buying that first cell phone. Parents like knowing that their child can call them at any time for any reason.
How Are Cell Phones Different From Tablets And Computers?
School systems from coast to coast have spent millions of dollars on initiatives aimed at putting computers or tablets in the hands of every student, sometimes as early as kindergarten. The big reason phones are different is because they are mobile. Children get used to having them right next to them at all times. This causes children to push out other important activities including face to face conversations, homework, sports practice, and even sleep.
A Few Things To Ask And Consider Before Purchasing That First Phone For Your Child
- How will your child use the phone? Of course, the first thing they say is “everyone has one.” But are they ready for the problems that can come with having a phone? They may not be old enough to manage their time and they do not realize the many new distractions and drama that social media will bring to their lives. Advise your child about other options like a flip phone or watch that allows communication without all the digital baggage. That may be a better fit for a young child.
- Why should a child’s strengths be understood and utilized before getting a cell phone? Children learn best when they do something that comes naturally to them. They excel in what they love doing, so adults need to find out what these child’s strengths are and utilize them for the child’s benefit. Does your child have a strong sense of responsibility and impulse control, or do they tend to act before thinking. This becomes important to consider once they have access to the internet, texting, and social media apps.
- Agree to rules, before purchasing that first cell phone: Most parents think a “contract” with their child is unnecessary and silly. But a written agreement is a great way for your child to step into this new responsibility without you “over-parenting.” When that first cell phone comes with written rules and responsibilities in the form of a signed agreement, young people learn how to handle their responsibly. If you ask your kids what they think the rules should be, and negotiate until you’re happy, they will “own” those rules.
- Social Connection: Healthy social connections help us all have a sense of wellbeing, and young people are no exception to this. Having positive relationships with people like family members, friends, and schoolmates lowers anxiety and depression. It also raises self-esteem. However, if you do not think your child is ready for a smartphone, there are other ways to help them connect with friends. Make sure they have social opportunities like clubs or sports, or you could allow video gaming with friends on a shared server or other safe multiplayer game setting.
- Act as a mentor: If you do allow a smartphone into your child’s life, make sure you find time to have regular chats with them about how life’s going — including their digital life. In your role as mentor, you can help them have positive experiences online and avoid the negative ones. Have them show you the games and apps they like. Keep updated on the things out there that could affect your child’s digital life.
- Continue the conversation: If you decide now is not the time for a smartphone, let it be an ongoing conversation. Treat getting a phone like an experiment. Find time to check out new apps or platforms together so your child knows that at some point they will be the owner of a smartphone.
A lot of research has looked at technology’s impact on children’s routines. Kids between 8-18 spend about 7.5 hours per day using a screen — whether TV, computer, cellphone or another device — for entertainment and school, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Remember children learn as much from watching as from our well-intended lectures. Parents really need to pay a little more attention to how often they pull out their phones when we’re around young children because, at the very least, it’s connected to their behavior and the way their digital behavior will be.
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About Pediatrics of Florence
We believe that children are more than just “little adults.” They have unique personalities, challenges, and life circumstances and we have made every effort to make our offices and care as “kid friendly” as possible. We have an aquatic theme in the waiting rooms (separated for sick and well children) as well as themed examination rooms. All of our physicians are Board Certified Pediatricians and members of the American Academy of Pediatrics and our nurse practitioners are all licensed Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and are available to see both well and sick children.
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