Some parents consider cell phones for their young children as essential tools for staying in touch and keeping that line of communication open. Yet others argue that cell phone adoption among kids prematurely opens the door up for threats like cyberbullying, sexting and inappropriate Internet use. There’s room for debate and both sides present valid points, but the behind the discourse, the issue still begs – when should kids get cell phones?
According to a recent study by Elizabeth L. Englander at Bridgewater State, one-fifth of 3rd graders (8-years-old) already own their own cell phones. Her study for the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) of more than 20,000 kids in the state between grades 3 and 12 aimed to research cell phone adoption and its impact on cyberbullying.
Of all children studied, Englander found that 20 percent of boys and 18 percent of girls in the 3rd grade have their own cell phones. The number climbs to 39 percent across both genders in 5th grade and jumps dramatically to 83 percent of kids in middle school with devices. While the study doesn’t specify if these cell phones are smartphones, it’s safe to assume that many modern cell phones nowadays have access to the Internet, texting capabilities and more.
In addition to cell phone adoption at earlier ages, Englander also found that by the 3rd grade, 90 percent of kids are already online, mostly playing games.
Due to the numbers she found, one of Englander’s conclusions from the study is that dialogue with kids about cyberbullying needs to start young. She states:
“Education on cyberbullying and cyber-behaviors needs to begin well before Middle School. Children are all online by third grade and over 20% report experiencing problems with peers online.”
Online bullying by age eight? That’s a frightening statistic.
Englander also found that as children progressed through school, more instances of bullying occurred. According to her study, bullying (physical and online) incidents affected half of kids in middle school which goes along with her figure of 90 percent of this age group using their cell phones to text and use the Internet.
So the question still remains – what age is the right age?
Unfortunately, there’s no cut-and-dry answer. Family circumstances, a child’s maturity level and the real need for a cell phone all contribute to when the right time is. Scott Steinberg, author of The Modern Parent's Guide high-tech parenting series, says that many families introduce cell phones during the tween and teen years and suggests giving a child access to a cell phone when “they will be outside of easily accessible contact and the need to maintain communication is imperative.”
He also offers the following recommendations:
- Consider buying a cell phone that dials only your contact number if and when kids need to come home alone. Prepaid cell phones can also let you limit call times and features, and monitor overall usage.
- Opt out of texting plans and choose a basic feature phone that forgoes bells and whistles such as downloadable apps and GPS tracking to limit children’s online interactions.
- Always read the manual, research and go hands-on with phones and smartphones before providing them to children. It's imperative to know the ins and outs of the cell phone you’re considering for your child before you give it to him or her.
- Consider restricting cell phone usage to only taking place in your presence until kids are mature enough to handle calls, texting and online interactions on their own.
When will your child be allowed to have a cell phone?