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The Smartest Phone Choice For Your Child Might Be "Dumb"


Parents regularly face decision-making signposts as they navigate the complexities of wanting to build feelings of independence for their child, while also keeping them safe. These judgment calls can start from the benign, such as when they might feel comfortable letting a young child play in the next room over without immediate supervision for a moment. As the child ages, these decisions may progress to considering when may be an appropriate time to allow them to ride their bike around the neighborhood, or have their first sleepover.


At What Age Should My Child Have A Phone?

Parenting in the digital age requires thoughtfulness and consideration regarding what technology access to permit your child to have at various stages of their development. In early childhood, it means evaluating the contents of television or digital streaming programming. Then, the fateful day arrives when your young child or pre-teen asks for their own cell phone. A Nielsen study shows that 53% of kids under age 11 are regularly gifted these devices when some are as young as 8-years-old. So what is a parent to do? 

The primary influencing decision for your family should be based on the individual child and not their age number. There are many pre-teens for whom the responsibility of carrying a phone around without breaking it, or misusing it, is too much to ask. Similarly, there are children of a much younger age who exhibit more responsible behaviors than their age might suggest. It is best to take an individualized approach when making this determination for your child.

Expert Opinions On Tech Readiness

Research-based data shows us that technology consumption is habit-forming, and more and more tech entrepreneurs are limiting their own children's screen time for this very reason. Smartphones, in particular, have faced increasing scrutiny, as they are addictive by design, and young minds aren't typically prepared for establishing, and adhering to, clear boundaries on usage. For some, they even have the propensity to increase feelings of depression or anxiety, and may only further difficulties in managing impulse control for children diagnosed with ADHD. The creator of the iPhone, Steve Jobs, raised his children in a low-tech home, and even Bill Gates children weren't permitted to have smartphones until high school

Recognizing the growing research on the complexities and potential pitfalls of smartphone use by children, a nationwide campaign was started by Wait Until 8th, to encourage delayed purchasing of these devices for young kids. The organization asks parents to sign a pledge committing to this ideal and provides guidelines on outreach efforts for other parents of children of the same age, to spread the word throughout their classrooms. Wait Until 8th lists ideas for how to implement this strategy in your own home and then get others to join in the movement, and their site also identifies some basics on alternative phone options for younger kids.


Smart Vs. Dumb Phones

For many parents, the reasoning behind providing their child with a phone has more to do with ease of contact than succumbing to peer pressure and the child's desire for the latest devices. For those kids who may be showing readiness for phone use, it is essential to note that does not mean they need to be handed the newest phone on the market, with all the latest features. Simplified "feature" phones which allow just calling and texting capabilities may be the wiser choice for the youngest users. There are still manufacturers creating traditional flip phones with only these basic capabilities, though there are a host of other options on the market. 

With several different options to consider, the website Fatherly did a recent in-depth review of many of these feature phones. The Informr lists the gadgets they most recommend for simplified phones for children, or even those adults who feel they're being pulled too deep into the allure of their smartphones. When meeting with your phone service provider to discuss options, advise them you would like a selection that does not require a data plan. The Riverside County SAFE/ICAC Task Force would encourage parents to make a phone selection that still has GPS tracking capability as a standard feature.

What If I Still Want To Give My Child Social Media Access?

Choosing to postpone offering a smartphone to your young child does not need to mean you must restrict access to social media entirely. The ability to connect with friends on these platforms need not be forbidden, so long as you employ smart internet safety measures for your family. Access to social media via home computers in lieu of smartphones lends legitimacy to your child's desire for this online contact, but grants this permission in a controlled and stationary setting. 

The technology-rich environment parents are raising children in these days differs significantly from the upbringing experienced just a couple of decades ago. It can be overwhelming to make decisions about best practices in the digital age and become easy to get swept up in following along with what other parents are doing. Being informed about other phone options for young users may not win you points in the "best parent" category according to your kids, but you'll be sending a clear message that their online safety is your priority.