Is my child ready for a smartphone?

By: Brooke Shannon

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“Mom, when can I get a smartphone?”

“Dad, everyone in my class already has an iPhone! When can I get a phone?”

If you have a child over the age of 5, it’s likely your child has asked you for a smartphone already. When is the right time to say, “yes,” to a smartphone for your child?

Last week, I wrote about how we must talk to our children about difficult things before they are ready for a smartphone. These are topics that make even the best mom or dad feel nervous, awkward, and ill equipped, including sex, pornography, sexting, cyber-bullying, suicide, and body image. If you have educated your child about these issues, then you must consider some other key questions before you give your child a smartphone.

What is the purpose of giving them a smartphone? Is it just to get in touch with them for logistics and safety reasons? Cue the basic flip phone. 

How old is your child? Under the age of 14, a child is most likely not ready to navigate the distractions and temptations of a smartphone. Child psychologists, Internet safety experts, and even technology executives recommend delaying when a child gets a smartphone until at least 14. Melinda Gates even lamented in an op-ed in the Washington Post that she wished she had waited even longer than 14 before allowing her children to have a phone.

Does your child respect and obey rules? If your child is struggling with adhering to rules at home and/or school, then the child is not ready for the responsibility of a smartphone. If you cannot trust the child to do what is right, then delay this important decision.   

How are your child's social skills? Is she able to have a conversation with an adult, and look people in the eye when talking to someone? Is the child observant in social situations or a little clueless? If the latter is the case, the lack of social skills will only be amplified with a smartphone. He or she is more likely to fumble on group texts or social media, opening up a minefield of social gaffes. Focus on coaching your child on key social skills before introducing the smartphone.

Is your child responsible with his or her belongings? Do they lose personal items easily? Is there a good chance your son will leave his phone at the park or on the bus? What will be the consequence of a lost or damaged expensive smartphone?

Does your child struggle with screen limits? Are you constantly nagging your son to shut down the video games? Does your daughter want too much iPad time? If screen time is already a struggle, then adding a smartphone to the mix is like pouring gasoline on a fire. So many parents regret granting the smartphone wish because screen time becomes a constant battle between the parent and child.

Are you ready as a parent to responsibly monitor a smartphone? With this powerful technology comes great responsibility for the child and the parent. You would never hand over the keys to a car without thorough instruction, limit setting, and monitoring how the car is used. Parents must be careful and committed to teaching a child how to appropriately use a smartphone as well. This takes discipline. This takes time. This takes consistency. Are you as a Mom or Dad ready for this commitment?

Does your child know how to use a smartphone responsibly? Before a child is permitted to have a smartphone, it is crucial for parents to instruct the child on how to use the smartphone safely, appropriately, and moderately. This goes well beyond a one-time discussion with your child where you rattle off a bunch of rules listed in a smartphone contract. If done properly, the education process should take multiple conversations over weeks, months, and possibly years. Instruction, monitoring, and modeling proper smartphone behavior must continue once the child receives a smartphone.  

If you determine your child is not ready for a smartphone, what should you do? 

Consider rallying some friends to wait with your family. The Wait Until 8th pledge empowers parents to delay the smartphone until at least 8th grade. More than 10,000 parents have said yes to waiting on the smartphone.

If your child is not ready for a smartphone but you need to get in touch with him, consider buying him a basic phone for calling and texting. The basic phone avoids many of the distractions and dangers of the smartphone.

If you think your child is ready for a smartphone, then establish a trial period for your child to have a smartphone for one month.  Be sure to install good parental controls on the smartphone. It is never a good idea to hand over a fully loaded smartphone with all of the bells and whistles and unfettered access to the Internet. Start slowly. Observe how the child handles the privilege. If after the trial period, you determine it was too soon, then it is OK to take it back or restrict more apps and capabilities of the smartphone. If the child is responsible with the smartphone, though, remember to continue to instruct and monitor their smartphone behavior. If he continues to use it responsibly, perhaps adding a new app of his choice of which you approve could be a reward.

Spend time with your child talking and explaining why it is so important to use a smartphone safely, appropriately, and moderately.

How to use a smartphone safely:

  • Privacy is very important. I will not provide information such as my location or home address over a text from an acquaintance or someone met through social media.
  • I will not respond to a text from a stranger.
  • I will not post my phone number online.
  • I will not engage with anyone I don’t know on social media. If someone contacts me I don’t know, I will let my parents know about it immediately.
  • I will alert my parents to any situation that seems unsafe. 
  • I will answer a call or a text from my parents promptly.
  • I will only “friend” someone on social media I know and have met in person.  My parents will monitor all friend requests and have the authority to delete any friend.
  • I will let my parents know if I think a friend is in trouble and unsafe because of cyber-bullying. 
  • I understand my safety is my parent’s top priority.  I am aware my parents will monitor everything I do on my smartphone. My smartphone privilege can be revoked anytime my parents think it is necessary to ensure my safety.

How to use a smartphone appropriately:

  • I will not text or post anything I would not say to my grandmother/father/mother/pastor/rabbi .
  • I will THINK before I text or post. I will ask myself if what I am texting or posting is true, helpful, inspiring, necessary and kind. 
  • My social media accounts are limited to [insert what you agree on- Wait Until 8th recommends waiting until at least 16 for social media]. I understand I must “friend” my parents on all of my social media accounts, as they will be monitoring my posts.
  • I will not text or post any inappropriate or embarrassing photos. Clothing is always a must in photos.
  • I will not send any message with sexual language or images in it.
  • I will not search for pornography on my phone. If I see any unsolicited pornography on my phone, I will alert my parents immediately.
  • I will not use my smartphone to cheat in anyway for homework or exams.
  • I will remember anything communicated on the smartphone via text or social media leaves a permanent digital footprint. Colleges and potential future employers could one day see what I did on my phone and social media.

How to use a smartphone moderately:

  • I understand smartphones should be used in moderation. 
  • I will not use my smartphone during meals, outside of shared spaces such as my bedroom, in school except for instructional purpose, while having conversations with people especially adults, or in the car.
  • If my mom or dad asks me to put the phone away, I will do it the first time they ask.
  • If I am walking in public, my phone will be in my pocket, purse or backpack.
  • My smartphone will be put away during homework time.
  • My smartphone will be turned off during the school day.  I will not check it for messages, emails, snaps, or a quick social media scroll.
  • When I am at event such as a birthday party, graduation, concert or game for a sibling, I will be in the moment and not on my smartphone.
  • I will not spend more than one hour a day on my smartphone for amusement such as mindless surfing, social media, group texting outside of homework, movie or show viewing, etc.
  • My smartphone will be checked in with my parents by 8:00 p.m.  and I will not have access to it until the morning.
  • My family will take a break from all technology including smartphones, tablets, computers and TV at least once a week at a designated time.

Giving a smartphone to a child is a big decision. Be sure to make sure your child is ready for this responsibility. Once your child has a smartphone, continue to educate them on the importance of using the smartphone safely, appropriately and moderately.

Brooke Shannon lives in Austin with her husband and three daughters. She is the founder of the Wait Until 8th pledge. The pledge empowers parents to delay the smartphone for their children until at least 8th grade. Join more than 10,000 parents in saying yes to waiting on the smartphone by pledging today.

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