The Great Debate: Is Your Child Ready for a Mobile Phone?

Oct 25, 2012 6:00am

By Alicia diVittorio, smartphone safety advocate, Lookout

Let’s face it – kids have become just as mobile phone obsessed as the rest of us. In a recent study, Lookout found that 50 percent of teens say they can’t live longer than a week without their phones, and 36 percent said they check their phones at least once every ten minutes.

Looking past how cell-phone crazy this generation of kids has become, one question still remains – when can your child handle a mobile phone and the responsibilities that come with? Most can agree that there is no single answer that is right for every parent and every child.

We recently worked with Harris Interactive to poll parents on what age they thought was the most appropriate age for a child to receive their first phone. U.S. parents expressed a wide range of opinions on the subject. Twenty-two percent of parents said they think age 10 is the right age, and 43 percent of total answers fell within the age range 10 to 12.

“Ultimately, whether a kid, tween or teen is ready for a phone of their own is a matter of that individual child’s maturity level, and that’s something only that child’s parents are in a position to determine,” said Monica Vila, founder of The Online Mom, an organization devoted to providing tools to help parents encourage responsible behavior as kids enter the digital world.

Vila said while parents might feel peace of mind knowing they can always get in contact with their kids, having a mobile phone might also introduce them to bad apps, phishing links and the less-than-wholesome intentions of other people.

Vila recommends parents ask themselves about their children to make this assessment – if and when you can answer ‘yes’ to all four, the time might be right for your child to own her own phone:

  1. Does your child need the phone to stay connected with you or for emergency situations?
  2. Does your child understand and respect the time and usage limits you have placed on other things like television and video game playing?
  3. Does your child understand what types of apps are okay to download and how to surf the Internet safely?
  4. Does your child know how to use the phone safely and appropriately? (Do they know whom and whom not to communicate with? What they should and shouldn’t share online? What sorts of words and pictures NOT to send?)

Some additional questions parents should ask themselves:

  • Does your child know the full functionality of the device you are giving them?
  • Have you educated yourself about the parental controls available through your service provider to help manage your child’s phone usage?

Find more resources at: Generation Smartphone: A Guide for Parents of Tweens + Teens.