Cell phones for 8-year-olds? It’s happening right now! A 2012 study by YouthBeat reports that more than 10 percent of children between ages 6 and 10 have their own cell phone, and the average age for a child to get his first cell phone is 12 years old.
If you’re not the parent of one of those children, don’t be so quick to judge. There are several reasons your child might benefit from having a cell phone at such a young age.
“The appropriate age for a child to receive a mobile phone really varies depending on the child,” says Janiece Evans-Page, assistant vice president of community engagement for AT&T. “Peer pressure is a factor, and kids are asking for phones at younger and younger ages.”
Janiece offers three questions to ask yourself before buying a cell phone for your child:
- Is your child mature enough to own a cell phone? Will he use it to make appropriate phone calls? AT&T recently conducted its “Mobile Safety Study,” which found that nearly one in five children ages 8 to 11 surveyed has received a mean or bullying text message. Talk to your child about cell phone safety and the tone and content of text messages before deciding he’s mature enough to own one.
- Does this cell phone fill a need or a social want? Do you need to communicate with your child when a landline isn’t available, or does he want a phone because all his friends have one? If you drive your child to and from school, he doesn’t participate in after-school activities, and you are home to greet him after school, then it’s likely he doesn’t need his own cell phone.
- Is he responsible enough to take care of a cell phone? Will your child remember to keep the phone charged and with him when necessary, and keep it out of harm’s way? Have him get into a routine of plugging the phone in at night before he goes to bed, and set consequences in the event you find the phone without a cover on it or he leaves it behind when leaving the house.
To determine if a cell phone is right for your child, sit down with him and discuss the topic: the pros and cons, the responsibility that comes with it and the expectations you would have for him. Ask him why he wants a mobile phone and what he plans to do with it—the answer may surprise you.
If you do buy your child a cell phone, consider writing a contract with him. Ask for his ideas and suggestions to ensure you’re both on the same page with regard to the expectations your family has for picture messaging and accessing the web. Allowing your child to have a say in this contract will give him a sense of ownership and responsibility to follow the rules that he helped create. Discuss the limits with regard to cell phone minutes, text messages and data. Remind him to keep it charged and take it out of his pocket before tossing his clothes into the laundry hamper.
Your family may decide that your 14-year-old isn’t mature enough for a cell phone but your 9-year-old needs one. There is no right answer for this subject—only what’s best for you. Know that your informed decision, whatever it may be, is right for your family.