Considering a cell phone for your kids? Here’s what to consider, and if there’s ever the right time…
Mama, have your kids been hassling you about how they simply ‘must have a cell phone, otherwise the world will stop spinning, because [they] are absolutely the last people in their class who don’t have their own phones’? Good! So I’m not alone here. If my wildly-imaginative twins are to be believed, some of their friends have even gone on to book their own flights on Singapore Airlines for the midterm break, right after finishing lunch at the school canteen. Okay, so I didn’t buy that one, but I do believe them when they say that they are among the few who do not have their own cell phones. Of course their version of having a phone would be a smart phone, where they could play games endlessly on the school bus without me nagging them to pick up a book instead. My version? The simplest possible phone from yesteryear, pre-paid, so that they can make a call in an emergency.
While I truly do not like the way devices have taken over the world and every child’s childhood (what happened to the days of actually going out and playing rather than sitting in front of the Wii?), I have to admit, I am constantly fighting an uphill battle against technology. And losing! I can limit device time at home, but I can’t help the kids drawing comparisons at school. Turns out, they have an absolutely boring mom who doesn’t believe in letting them have any fun!
So why are parents getting their kids a cell phone so early in their childhood? Most parents say it’s for safety, so that the child can call them at any time, while a few bravely admitted to having to keep up with peer pressure and society. I understand the argument about giving children a phone to be able to call home in the event of an emergency and I also see the merit in having a phone, especially when they are on a school bus and I’m not driving them door to door. But the other side of the argument is that if you start with a cell phone now, what comes next year? Where do you draw the line?
And what’s the right age to get a child a cell phone? According to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 66% of kids between the ages of 8 and 18 owned cell phones (that number has surely gone up in the last few years, too!). Breaking down the numbers further, 31% of 8-10 year-olds owned them, 69% of 11 to 14 year-olds, and 85% of 15-18 year-olds had them. So maybe I’m not the only parent dragging my feet, after all! The general consensus is that children under 8 cannot handle the responsibility of their own cell phone, nor do they have much need for one.
If you’re considering getting your 8-10-year-old a phone, go for a simple, no-frills model. It may not be a glamorous smartphone, but at least you won’t have to worry about addictive online games or the world of cyber bullying.
- It’s a no-brainer when you think of safety and security
- Hopefully it teaches your child to be more responsible and to look after (expensive) possessions more carefully
- It’s easier to co-ordinate pick up times and schedules if your child is involved in several activities after school
- Can encourage independence in your child
- Having a phone makes the child feel more mature and confident that you trust them with it (even if it’s not a cool smartphone)
- The cost of a no-frills model is very cheap
- Being complacent about having a phone and calling or texting home all the time to ask the smallest of things
- Showing off to their friends that they have a phone, and mistaking a privilege for a birth right
- Not being able to stop using the phone in school, despite knowing it’s only for emergencies
- Can foster an unhealthy dependence on technology
- Blurring the lines between a need and a want
So, based on these lists, I’m actually not doing myself any favours in trying to win this argument – turns out that by my own count are more pros than cons in favour of getting a cell phone (but only just barely)!
For the moment, though, I am going to stand strong on denying them this want, because I honestly can’t justify it. Their day consists of being on the school bus to and from school, when both the driver and bus aunty have their own phones, so I know if it’s an emergency, I’ll hear from them. Singapore is one of the safest places to grow up in the world, and I don’t think a little bit of toughening up hurts in such a sheltered environment.
Using phones at school is obviously out of the question, so there’s not much point of having a phone sit at the bottom of their bags all day long. And for the rest of the day, the boys are with me and within shouting distance of each other, so no need for phones at home, either. If it means they can’t be cool kids for the moment at school, so be it.