Mobile phones are everywhere in these days. Adults use them on the street, at the mall, in the workplace, at home, and almost anywhere else imaginable. Many children and teenagers also use mobile phones. How do parents decide? Is my child ready for a mobile phone?
Parents are often unsure at what age they should allow their own child to use a mobile phone. Should an eight-year-old be given a phone, or should the parent wait until the child is ten, twelve, or fourteen? It’s a person decision that has financial ramifications, but it also opens up a whole world of parenting issues and potential minefields for the child.
Experts agree that, while peer pressure -- the concern that “everyone else has one” -- is a major reason that children ask for mobile phones, it is not a sufficient reason to give a child a phone at any age. It’s a decision that should be made as a family thoughtfully, not simply because Johnny down the street got a phone and now Jr. wants one too!
Mobile phone plans aren’t inexpensive these days. Even with a “family plan” a 4 person household can easily spend $150-$200 per month on service. Each phone you add can up the cost. In addition, phones themselves are expensive. It’s getting tougher and tougher to find simple phones that are not smartphones requiring data. A smartphone (which is what any child will tell you they HAVE to have) is going to cost hundreds of dollars. Some phone plans will let you “lease” a phone with a monthly payment over a typically, two-year period. Do you have the money to pay an extra $15-$30 per month to lease a phone? Can you pay $300+ to purchase it outright?
The bigger question is whether you believe your child is ready to handle the responsibility of caring for an item that costs hundreds of dollars. Are they able to keep track of their belongings? Are their belongings typically in good condition? Are they careful with other electronic items? These are all good indicators of a child’s readiness to handle a mobile phone.
When making this decision, parents should also be aware of the health and lifestyle problems associated with mobile phones. While there is yet no definitive proof of harm, there are lingering worries about the long-term effects of the small amounts of radiation that emanate from mobile phones. If there are negative effects, presumably the length of exposure would be one factor in determining the severity of the impact. This would constitute an argument against early adoption. However, more investigations are necessary to quantify the risk.
Another health concern relates to sleep. Studies have shown that children with mobile phones tend to keep their phones on or near the bed during the night. Listening for rings and checking for or sending texts reduces the time available for sleep and disrupts the child’s sleep pattern.
Parents should also consider the child’s use of the phone’s capacity to access the Internet, especially social media. Of course, these online resources have many positive uses and potential benefits for the growing child, but there are also negative possibilities. Children may discover inappropriate content (such as pornography), or they may become involved -- as perpetrator or victim -- with online bullying. If a parent feels that their child is too young or immature to navigate these dangers, it may be prudent to delay adoption. If you decide to allow your child access, you would be wise to investigate filtering or monitoring options designed to protect your child.
The argument is often made that children need mobile phones for safety reasons. To the extent that a child is traveling independently (for example, to and from school), the phone is indeed a safety device. However, for any child who is driven everywhere by the parent, and not old enough to be involved in activities away from parents, the safety-related rationale is less important.
Most experts indicate that the decision about when to give a child a phone should involve an assessment of that particular child’s maturity level and needs. It follows that there is no one age that applies to every child. The age of adoption for a child in a low-crime suburban area with schools within walking distance might be higher than the age recommended for a child living in an inner-city neighborhood where it is necessary to take public transit to school.
For many families (including my own,) a child must demonstrate readiness before being given a phone. I have four children ranging from 12 -- 18. We chose to consider a phone for our children once they reached Middle School. This is when they most regularly had the opportunity to participate in activities that would necessitate us being able to contact them (like after-school sports, youth group activities or trips with friends to places we did not accompany them). We also made it clear that phones are a privilege, not a right, and would be considered based on the maturity and trustworthiness of each individual child. Three of my children currently have phones, one has not yet earned that privilege.
Deciding “is my child ready for a mobile phone?” isn’t a simple task. Most of the time, our kids will say they are ready before we believe they truly are. Considering the risks, benefits, costs and maturity of your child makes the task a bit easier.
We would love to hear from you -- how has your family handled this issue? When did you decide your child was ready for a mobile phone? What things did you consider in making that decision? Let us know in the comments!
Consumer Education Services, Inc. (CESI) is a non-profit service provider of comprehensive personal financial education and solutions for all life stages and for all of life’s milestones. Our goal is enhanced economic security for everyone we serve.
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