I will admit that when our eldest got a phone we did not think too deeply about it. She was babysitting and participating in more after school activities and we wanted her to be able to contact us. We knew she would use it to text her friends, but we didn’t think that was a big deal. Now a few years a later, we have another child entering middle school and this time around we are not as cavalier about getting her a phone.
There are days I love the phone and days I wonder why she has it. I love that she can call if she needs a ride or has a problem and I can reach her if there is a change.I am more comfortable letting her venture out knowing she has a phone. All of this connection can also lead to disconnection. She is on her phone a lot. Some days, I swear she never looks up and it is a constant battle to limit time. We also struggle with how much to monitor her use. It is hard to guide her if we don’t know what she is doing on her phone. We want to make sure she is using her phone responsibly but we don’t want to read every text.
Before buying a phone, parents and kids should discuss time and use. Ultimately, whether a kid is ready for a phone depends a lot on them and you. Some questions to think about are:
- How responsible are they with their current devices?
- How well are they doing with time management?
- Are they managing friendships well in the real world?
- Are you ready as a parent to manage and guide their use?
If you decide it is time for a phone, remember a phone and internet can be separated and introduced at different ages. Your 6th grader may need a phone to get picked up at school. It doesn’t mean they need internet access. Contrary to what they may tell you, not everyone has a smartphone.
Once you have decided on a phone, parents and kids should sit down and talk expectations & consequences. Working together, you and your child can create a family phone contract. Creating a contract together is a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page. I like the idea of a contract vs. a list of rules. It gives you a chance to hear their thoughts and talk about responsible phone use. Ultimately, their safety and privacy must be protected so not everything is negotiable.
Parents should decide how they are going to monitor time and use. Keeping chargers downstairs is a great way to limit late night texting. Parents may also want to set a no phones at the dinner table rule. To keep track of use, we have surprise cell phone checks and I know other parents who use monitoring software. Whatever you decide for your child make sure that monitoring and education go hand in hand. The goal is for monitoring to lead to a dialogue.
We are all learning the rules of the road for this new technology. They will make mistakes. When they may make a mistake or see something that upsets them, you want them to come to you. Mistakes are an opportunity for everyone to learn.