Does anyone else remember begging your parents to get your first cell phone? I woke up on my 15th birthday to Greensleeves playing in my room. A Fido phone, with interchangeable face plates was sitting on my nightstand. Of course, I was elated. I could text my friends — at 10 cents a message — to my heart’s content, or until I ran out of “time” on my phone. Let’s not forget playing Snake whenever I wanted!
Cut to today, kids have every electronic under the sun, but a cellphone still sparks some special coming of age moment in their eyes. Take my son for instance, only six, but still longing for his own personal cell phone. He doesn’t even know what a phone call is yet, all we do is video chat with people and text nowadays. But the idea of having a cellphone makes him feel more important, like it gives him status.
I’m not even sure they understand what the difference between a phone and tablet are. I remember when we got our first phones, they started getting smaller and smaller. I had a flip phone no bigger than two inches. I thought it was amazing. Could you imagine that now, trying to play Among us on the itty bitty screen? You’d think they’d agree, a bigger screen equals better. But somehow they caught whatever fever we had so long ago, wanting to go from their great big tablet screens to our little ones, even though they do basically all the same things. But mom has one, so they want it too.
“They can even play Fortnite on their phones if they’re so inclined.”
So when do you get your children a cell phone of their very own? I’d say that all depends on what you plan to let them do on it. Do you just want to appease them? Make them feel like they’ve won some parent/child battle royale? Then it doesn’t really matter when. Bottom line is that tablets and cell phones aren’t a lot different from each other anymore. They mostly carry the same apps and same parental lock capabilities. Perhaps they could be a bit more breakable, but cases and screen protectors can fix that. They can even play Fortnite on their phones if they’re so inclined.
What’s stopping us? Money, mostly. Why spend the money if your child doesn’t truly NEED it? A cell phone is expensive, a data plan, even more so. As a parent, decide when you think it becomes a need instead of a want. In my humble opinion, a child doesn’t need it until they are old enough to be on their own, whether home or out and about. My niece is 10 now, but she’s never without an adult, or at least one nearby. She doesn’t need to text everywhere she goes, and won’t be somewhere she will be in danger and unable to find trusted help. A phone plan is not required.
Right now my son’s tablet has access to Messenger Kids. This has been a great test for whether he is responsible enough to be even close to having access to call people. At six, he can read, write, manage voice to text, and video call. Not to mention all the add-ons that let him filter his video and send trivia questions, constantly. We have worked on teaching him how to be polite and noninvasive.
We don’t text gibberish, we don’t quadruple text, we don’t call people 14 times in a row when they don’t answer, we only send appropriate content, and we certainly do not call or text after bedtime.
For the most part it has been successful. There has been no bullying or strange photos sent — aside from a lot of his forehead that he unfortunately got from me. He really can’t seem to control the need to change into a swamp monster while calling his grandmother. He also may have video called me at 3am from his dad’s house for no reason. I thought it was because something was wrong, but no, it was just to say,“Hey, what’s up?”, like that’s a totally normal thing to do in the middle of the night. At least I know he can get a hold of me in an emergency now. But his tablet is no longer in his room at night, for the record.
“He respected the rules, and I am proud of that.”
One thing that’s great about Messenger Kids is that it gives him the space to learn these boundaries while I can keep him monitored. Every week I am sent a report that tells me who he talked to, and how much. Not only can I hear his tablet ringing every 10 seconds when he doesn’t answer, but I can also see that his little friend called him 32 times that week. That might be just a little too much, but it wasn’t him. He respected the rules, and I am proud of that.
Now, if you just want to appease the whining, I say go for it. When you get your next new shiny cell phone, give your kid your old one. It’s not a huge expense, and you don’t have to have data or a call plan on it. Wi-Fi will suffice. They’ll think they have something special, just like their parents or maybe even older siblings. Like they have a special seat at the grown up table too, but you are still calling the shots. We have the tablet and my old phone set up exactly the same, they’re both Samsung, all the same apps and settings.
Deciding when you get your kids a cell phone is entirely your call. You can decide when they’re ready, and what exactly they are ready for. Parents can go all out, or test the waters slowly. It doesn’t have to be a huge gesture on your part. But once you do go for it, every once in a while they will go for their phone and it will make them feel just a little extra special. Pick your battles parents!