When Should Your Child Get a Phone?

This is an email I just wrote to my own adult kids and their spouses. I thought it would be a good thing for others to see and read and comment on.

Good Morning, C### and D####, S#### and S###, (names obscured for privacy)

The advertisement for software I’m sending may not be applicable to your kids quite yet, but the day is soon coming when it very well might. The software below allows parents to monitor kids’ IOS device activity, including contacts, texts, and location.

This brings up two issues worthy of discussion: (1) If and when a kid gets their own phone; and (2) what degree of privacy are kids entitled to on their phones?  These are both topics all parents should consider and develop positions on before they are needed.

WHEN SHOULD A KID GET THEIR OWN PHONE?

Or should they? It is inevitable that EVERY child these days will at some point clamor to get their own phone. Today, there are kids as young as EIGHT who have their own phones. There will also be tremendous peer pressure to get one, andat some age, a child without a phone will be seen my their peers as a pariah and deprived and perhaps even thought of as unfairly abused.

So the question becomes not truly IF they will get a phone, but under what circumstances, and when?

One thing that occurs to me is that a phone these days is a definite EXPENSE, both for the initial purchase, and for the monthly bump in your own bill. If I were addressing this question today, I would certainly make one of the conditions of getting a phone that the child be able to at least help with the initial purchase, AND foot the entire difference in the monthly bill. This would require them to develop the maturity to do regular paying work, whether inside or outside the home.

Probably good to start inside the home, both for convenience reasons, and because the inevitable change-to-working-lifestyle stumbles are more easily absorbed at home.

Another thought would be to have the starter phone be a non-smart phone, one that cannot load apps or access the Internet, easily obtainable for about $20 at WalMart. Then when they want to upgrade to a smartphone, the conditions path is easy. “You want a smartphone? Sure, no problem! How much more do you have to earn to get one? And pay the monthly bill?”

A final thought on conditions would be the leverage it gives you over them as they get into their teen years and try to test all the limits. This is where developing your thoughts now and then setting conditions at the time they get a phone becomes quite important.

I believe it would be a mistake to simply “give” a kid a smartphone with no conditions or limitations. Younger children just don’t have the judgment to make good decisions in all situations.

As you both well know by now, I believe the absolute best way to approach this kind of situation is to insist that my charge (like a juvenile child) first have all the information they need in the decision making process, and then understand the possible consequences of each decision they can make. Then I let them make their own decisions, but I will protect them from consequences only when they involve physical injury or an unacceptable financial loss.

Because as part of the growing up process, kids WILL make bad decisions. They WILL make mistakes. In my belief, the best way for them to learn is from having to deal with the consequences of their mistakes and decisions.

In thinking about this right now,I’m entertaining the notion that it would be a good “experiment” to have eachchild participate in setting their own rules for phone usage, AND the consequences of breaking the rules.

Ha ha ha ha! Then they couldn’t argue that the rules were unfair!

Of course, that would depend entirely on the maturity and selfishness of the child at the time. With all MY grandkids, I don’t think that would be an issue. (Serene smile.)

The next issue I think it would be a good idea to think about now is

HOW MUCH PHONE PRIVACY IS A KID ENTITLED TO?

Right off the top of my head, my answer is that depends on the age of the child. The younger a child is, the less they will have the maturity to make good decisions of any kind.

As a parent, I would want to use the Demonstration-Performance method of teaching judgment.

This means in the beginning, you not only show someone that you are doing this (making decisions), but you explain to them each step and the rationale for that step as you do it (demonstrating judgment).

The next step would be to demonstrate it again, but ask them to explain why you took each step, ask them to explain the rationale. (In pedagogical terms, this is called “inquisitory expostulation.” Yeah, they do make it complex.) Of course, you would correct them as needed at this phase.

The next step would be to have them take each step with your supervision, “Okay, what do I need to think of next?” and redo this as many times as needed to be sure they have it.

The next step would be for you to watch them do it a few times, with occasional “Good! Why did you do that?” questions, or “Oops, not that. What should come first?” interjections –repeated until you have confidence they have developed the judgment to perform on their own unsupervised.

By the way, this is a well-established teaching methodology (the Demonstration-Performance Method) that works very well in many situations, and it ought to work well in deciding when a child is mature enough to handle a dumb phone and then a smart phone.

The reason I addressed that methodology first is that I think your judgment of a child’s maturity in decision making is key to the level of privacy you afford your child on their phone.

I also believe two additional things; first, you should share with each child that they need to SHOW you how they make good decisions in ALL things so you will be comfortable with phone things; and second, it is important for you to maintain the ability to CHECK as long as the child lives in your house. And they should know this. If this means periodic spot-checks, then so be it. If this means prohibiting such apps as SnapChat, then so be it.

This topic of your kids and allowing them to have phones is not only a morass of potential conflict between parent and child, it is also a minefield.

However, I believe that some careful thinking RIGHT NOW, some good development of your own thoughts and positions on these issues, can be a huge hassle-saver when the time comes.

If you would like to discuss this among yourselves, or include all the adults in the conversation in a sort of email MasterMind group, I believe it might help everyone develop a good and workable position, and avoid a lot of frustration later on.

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To blog readers, I would very much like to hear YOUR opinions and thoughts as well. Please use the comment section below.

And good luck with whatever you wind up doing.

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