It was an exciting day when I got my first smartphone—a Palm Treo 700p, in the spring of 2007. Having a phone with a full physical keyboard, my calendar, address book, and a few other useful applications meant this new device would replace the flip phone I carried around in one pocket and the personal digital assistant (PDA) I carried in the other. Thirteen years and numerous smartphones later, it’s hard to imagine life without one. Smartphones are essential for my work and day-to-day life.
But when should a kid get a phone? Like many others her age, my 13-year-old daughter has begun to campaign for one. We’re holding out on this because there are good reasons to wait. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t make good points when she asks. Here are the most common arguments kids make when they want phones and how to respond to them.
“Everyone else has a phone.”If it isn’t what’s best for our kids or we can’t afford it, it shouldn’t happen.
Our answer to this is simple: If it isn’t what’s best for our kids or we can’t afford it, it shouldn’t happen, regardless of who does or does not also have this privilege, product, or opportunity. Kids have been transmitting their experience of peer pressure to adults for what seems like forever, arguing for a later bedtime, a specific brand of clothing, and the latest gadget or gizmo. How we respond when our kids ask for a phone ought not to be any different than how we respond when they ask for other things they want. We hear them out but still try to make the best decision for them that we can. If, however, you’ve reached the point where you think you should give your kid a phone, but just can’t afford it, encourage them to take on some responsibility by getting a job to cover the cost of that phone.
“I want to stay connected to my friends.”
While it isn’t fair to say that everyone has a phone, some of our kids’ friends do have smartphones and they use them to stay in touch via text messaging and social media. So, it seems perfectly reasonable that our kids want to connect with their friends on their own terms. This is why we’ve maintained a landline. All of our kids, regardless of age, can call their friends under our supervision. For our 13-year-old, we’ve gotten an iPod touch with features that are limited thanks to Apple’s Screen Time and Covenant Eyes. This means we are able to approve or deny any application she wishes to install, to limit the hours she can spend on the device, and (hopefully) to teach her good habits now, for the day is fast approaching when she’ll have her own device.
“But I want I stay in touch with you.”
This might be the most persuasive argument that can be made about when you should get your kids a phone. They want to ensure that wherever they go and whatever they do, they have an instantaneous means to get a hold of you if they are in danger or have any other sort of need. The thing is that most of the places they go—friends’ homes, school, the mall—all have phones that would be available should any other need arise. In addition to this, one of the ways in which we can overprotect our children is by not giving them a certain amount of space and freedom, which we all had during our own childhood years. And if your kids actually do need a phone to stay in touch with you, most cell phone carriers still offer a “dumb phone” that would enable them to call you without all the smartphone features they don’t need.)
Sound off: When do you think it is appropriate for a child to have a smartphone?
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What are some reasons a smartphone could be bad for you?”