A question I always get asked when I give talks to parents is what is the right age to give your child a phone? It's a challenging question to answer because each child and family is different. These days children seem to get their first phones at earlier and earlier ages. In general, it seems that most parents "give in" during the transition to middle school. This is the age when peer groups become more important and when children start to seek independence from their families. And in the 21st century, a phone is an important marker of a child's independence from his or her parents. Or is it?
We gave my 11-year-old son his first phone this Christmas, a full five months before his fifth grade graduation. Why? While on a business trip for several days, I wanted to speak to my son many times. Since we no longer have a babysitter, I had to rely on my 14-year-old daughter, my husband or the landline at home, and this was not a reliable system.
So we bought him a phone. As a working mother, my son's phone gives me peace of mind. He can text us if he needs anything, or if he wants to go to a friend's house after school. More importantly, I can text him, when I am stuck in a meeting and will be late coming home, or when I am traveling and want to make sure he remembered to finish his project for school.
But these are not the only benefits I receive from my son having a phone. If we get into an argument, it is sometimes easier to first apologize in writing. If I want to share a parenting lesson with him, I find he will more easily read a text rather than listen to me tell him the exact same thing face-to-face. It gives him time to absorb the substance of the words rather than tune out my voice (which he often hears as lecturing).
So, I have to be honest, I love that my son now has a phone. Yes, sometimes he ignores me while playing Doodle Jump, but more often than not, we use it to communicate. And now that he is getting to the age when he wants to pull away from his mom and hang out more with his friends, his phone actually helps us stay close.
If you are thinking about getting your child a phone, I recommend three things.
1. Fill out a contract together. Mine came from Common Sense Media; here is a link to a more personal one from a mom to her son. This is extremely helpful for many reasons, not only because it sets the rules for your child clearly, but also because it will help you think through the issues of phone ownership in a thoughtful and proactive manner.
2. Do not allow your child to charge the phone in his or her bedroom. If possible, anyone with a device (yes, that means you) should charge it in a public place in your home.
3. If you can afford it, get a case that protects the phone. We are going to try this $15 one -- it says it is the kind that you can drop from a helicopter.