Today, cell phones and kids seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly. While parents are often proud to say “I didn’t have one when I was young and I did just fine,” kids are quick to reply, “All my friends have one, and I should, too.”
Cell phones can pose problems when in the hands of kids (too much texting, too much screen time, too little socialization with ‘real’ people), but Marc Klaas says they can also be used to protect children. Not only can you talk to your child whenever you want, but you can also utilize tracking software that will tell you where your child is or it will alert you when your child goes outside of a set perimeter.
If you are considering purchasing a cell phone for your child, start by assessing the purpose for the phone. Here are some important things to consider.
- Your child’s age. Older kids who go to activities after school, spend nights away from home or who drive could use the phone to keep in touch with you when they aren’t home.
- Your child’s activity level. Are they involved in programs after school hours? Do they spend long periods of time traveling for sports or participating in after school events? If they spend a lot of time away from home, it may be a good way to keep in contact with your child.
- The reason your child wants a phone. Do they want it to spend time online? To keep in touch with friends? To play games? Determining this reason will better help you decide if it will benefit your child or be a distraction to them.
Next, consider the type of phone that would work for your child. A younger child may benefit from a pay-as-you-go phone, which would allow you to contact him or her as needed but wouldn’t provide chances for excessive texting, chatting, or online surfing. A smartphone, on the other hand, offers a variety of perks, such as unlimited texting and online researching, if you choose a plan that allows for this.
If you decide to purchase a regular cell phone, contact several carriers and ask each about the various plans they carry for families. Many companies offer plans directly associated with kids and teens, says National Cyber Security Expert Theresa M. Payton. This might include cell phone family plans that limit the amount of texts your child can send, and it also might include features for locating your child.
After choosing the correct phone and cell phone plan, establish cell phone rules before handing it over to your child. You may want to set rules for usage time, screen time (playing games and apps) and online time. Payton urges parents to keep cellphones – and all online devices – out of the bedroom. If your child drives, make a strict no texting or talking while driving pact, and follow through with taking the phone away should you find out the rule was broken. Rosalind Wiseman recommends telling your child to use a cell phone password to protect the phone from others who might gain access and do things that could be inappropriate or even harmful to your child.
Though the idea of cell phones and kids is often a scary one for parents to consider, when used correctly they can be beneficial in keeping in touch with your kids when you can’t be with them in person.