One of the hottest discussions in the parenting world is when to give your child their first cell phone. With good intentions, many parents want to find a consensus on what age their child can be trusted with this level of responsibility.
The truth is, there’s no magic age where kids suddenly become mature or responsible enough to handle the new challenges having a cell phone can bring. It all depends on your child’s personality, maturity, and so much more. There’s no cut-and-dry formula to determine when your kid will be ready for the risks and responsibilities of a phone, but you can make a more informed decision by asking yourself these questions:
1. How does my child respond to temptations?
While it’s awesome that we aren’t still printing out directions from MapQuest or looking up phone numbers in a phone book, we can’t deny that the internet has a dark side. Bullying, pornography, and violence are only some of the things your kid may stumble upon with the internet just a tap away. Does your child know what to avoid? Do you trust them to make a wise choice when they see something they know they shouldn’t look at?
2. How emotionally mature is my child?
Information is everywhere, and kids may be exposed to upsetting headlines and stories when they’re just trying to scroll through a social media feed. Exploring how your child reacts to this information will help you decide when they’re ready for a cell phone.
3. Does my child have healthy self-esteem?
Social media tempts us to show the world the highlight reel of our lives. You probably won’t scroll for more than ten seconds before seeing another influencer showing the world their fancy car, filtered complexion, and expensive clothes. In the blink of an eye, we can go from admiration to envy when we see these feeds. It’s important to be sure your child understands that their value doesn’t come from how they look or how much money they have, but from the knowledge that they are a child of God.
4. Do I trust my child’s friends?
It’s hard enough to keep track of what our own kids are up to sometimes, never mind what their friends are doing. By reading this article, you’re taking a huge step toward teaching your child to use a cell phone with wise boundaries, but you can’t do the same for their friends. Peer pressure and bullying can be amplified once texting, DM’s, and social media are thrown into the mix. This might be a great time to remind your child what a good friendship looks like. Here are 4 Ways to Help Your Child Build Healthy Friendships.
5. Does my child have healthy priorities?
Let’s lay out a scenario: you sit down, open Facebook, and suddenly three hours have passed! We’re sure you probably have better willpower than this, but what about your kid? If you’re not sure your child knows how to prioritize homework, chores, or family time before screen time, that’s an important conversation to have with them.
Avoid the Trust Trap
“Don’t you trust me?”
Kids can easily confuse trust with a lack of supervision. They wrongly assume that if you trust them, they can have unlimited access to their phones, and you’ll never check on their activity. Free yourself of this false definition of trust!
You can trust your child but not the negative things that may tempt them on the internet. You can trust your child but know that eventually, some of their friends could become enemies, and their phone remains a window to mean-spirited texts. You can trust their heart but question their maturity.
The important thing is to recognize that ridding yourself of the “Trust Trap” will allow you to make wise guidelines with your child’s phone usage.
Safeguards Work Best When There Isn't a Problem
The best time to prepare a defense is before the first attack. Long before a trip to the cell phone store, you would be wise to learn what resources are available to help your child succeed with their new cell phone. Safeguards will help create peace of mind for you and your family. Below are a few options for you to consider before making your decision:
Comprehensive Cell Phone Monitoring Service
Cell Phone Parental Controls
Create a Cell Phone Contract
Cell phones can be excellent tools to build communication and accountability. This can begin with a cell phone contract between you and your child. A contract can help them understand the restrictions and expectations upfront, so there are no surprises later.
The contract signing can be a moment to celebrate the maturity you’re seeing in your child.. It can also make clear what happens if the expectations you agree to are broken, and teach your child about actions and consequences.
You’re welcome to use this contract below, or write your own!
LCBC Family Phone Agreement
It is important to mention that no contract, monitoring service, or app restriction will ever be as good as having an open and honest dialogue with your child.
Display What You Say
If there are any bad phone habits you’re worried your kid might pick up on, start by checking your own behavior. If you’re constantly stuck on your phone, scrolling mindlessly through Instagram or checking on the latest scores, you are modeling those patterns to your child. On the flipside, if your kid sees you putting the phone away to prioritize things like family time and housework, they will learn that their cell phone is far from the most important thing in their life.
Our actions speak far louder than our words, and our children will see firsthand how they should handle technology when they are adults.
Proverbs 22:6 reminds us, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it."
If cell phones are handled maturely, cell phones can be a great step toward connection. If they are handled recklessly, they can pose a significant risk. Your prayer, preparation and communication can make all the difference.
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