Imagine being 9 years old, and your mom or dad gives you a $700, hand-held supercomputer that has access to all the information ever known in the history of mankind.
What would you do with that power? How quickly would you see or learn about things you aren’t able to understand? Would you be able to make good decisions with the knowledge you acquired from this device? Would you be able to process or make sense of things you saw or read about?
Think about the children in your life. Would you trust them with that kind of device? If so, wouldn’t you want to be there with them, answering questions they had? Wouldn’t you want to help them navigate this new world and the responsibility that comes with such knowledge?
Everybody’s Doing It
I know there is enormous pressure for kids to look or act or be a certain way. And the pressure and ridicule when you don’t fit into a certain mold can be intense. Your kids may want a phone to keep track of and communicate with friends. They may need one to let you know when they are finished with softball practice so you can come pick them up. You may want them to have one so you know where they are and can get ahold of them when needed.
I want my kid to fit in with his friends…or at least be able to relate to them. But as parents, we have to see beyond the immediate and protect their hearts long-term. And a cell phone can become one of the most damaging tools to our kids and their hearts. The Internet, cyber-bullying, sexting…there are so many ways in which our kids can be hurt.
The Phone Is Just a Tool
It seems like this question has been popping up in our circles a lot lately: when did you give your kid their first phone? The answers have varied so widely from parent to parent. Some kids we know are 6 and have an iPhone. We know some teenagers that don’t have a phone at all.
You may think differently, and that’s ok. We all get to do what we think is best for ourselves and our kids. Your kid may need one for reasons I haven’t thought of. However, my personal take on it looks a little different than most. I think a cell phone is necessary when a young adult needs to contact their parents, and when parents need to contact their young adult.
Beyond that, it’s just a bad storm, waiting on the horizon, ready to put out the fires of innocence in our kids. The temptation to use it for other means is just too great.
But They Already Have A Phone – Now What?
For some, it may be that your kids already have a phone. And it would be hard to take it away from your kid without starting World War 3. My kids are younger, and I’ve never taken an iPhone from a selfie-taking, Snapchatting 15-year-old girl. Who am I to talk.
But it’s never too late to have a conversation with your kid about the phone and the issues they will face with it eventually. And certainly, there are some steps you can take to make sure they are protected when using it.
First, there needs to be an understanding that a cell phone is a major responsibility, and an easily-removable privilege. In most cases, you are the one providing the phone. You should be the one that determines what it can and can’t be used for.
Second, you have to set some boundaries for your kids on what they can and can’t do with their phone. For us, that might include no Internet, no social media, and no YouTube. It will look different for every family, but you have to come up with some ground rules and guidelines for what you consider to be appropriate use.
You could always get a phone without these features – remember when flip phones were the bomb?!?
Third, you need to have a way to monitor and verify what your kid is doing with the phone. After all, if they aren’t living up to the agreement you made with them for using the phone, they shouldn’t get to keep it. There should be some sort of monthly check-in conversation, or even monitoring software that lets you know they’re being responsible.
Not If, But When
Lastly, and most importantly, you have to let your kids know about the dangers of the Internet, and how readily-accessible they are via a smartphone. It’s not a matter of if they will be exposed to something they aren’t ready for, it’s simply a matter of when.
Even if they don’t have a phone, you can bet one of their friends will. And sooner rather than later, they will be exposed to something you’ll wish they weren’t. Our job as parents is to prepare them for the real world, and that includes the bad and the ugly, not just the good.
What have you decided as a family about cell phones? What age do you think it’s appropriate for your kids to have one? Do you have guidelines in place or ways to check in on them as they use them? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below and let me know.