How to Know If Your Child Is Ready for Their First Phone

No matter how long you put it off, your child will likely need a cellphone eventually. These days, technology is everywhere, and it’s often a necessary part of daily life. Kids may need access to the internet for class, or they may need to call you during the day. No matter what the reason, kids will have tech in their lives. 

You might be tempted to keep your kids away from the dangers of tech by avoiding it altogether. However, in today’s world, that’s just not realistic. 

What you can do, however, is make sure you’re giving your child their first phone when the time is right. Rather than follow trends, you should follow your intuition and some basic guidelines. Here are seven ways to determine whether or not you should give your child a cellphone. 

1. Your Child Is Responsible

Being responsible doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to every parent. But there are a few signs that you should watch for before getting them their first phone. For example, your child should be able to keep track of their belongings without losing or damaging them. 

If your kid has a habit of losing their toys, they may not be ready for a phone yet. After all, you want to be sure that they’re not going to leave the phone at school. Or accidentally ride their bicycle over it. 

You also want to make sure that your child is responsible enough to remember to charge their phone. As a parent, you have a ton on your plate. The phone shouldn’t be an extra chore on your to-do list. Reminding your child to keep their phone charged isn’t your responsibility.

2. Your Child Knows How to Use Technology

Your child doesn’t need to be a tech wiz, but they should know some cell phone basics. At the very least, they need to know how to text, and how to call, family members. If the phone has other features, the list of necessary know-hows grows. If the phone has social media and internet access, make sure they know how to safely use these platforms. 

Children need to be able to identify good versus inappropriate behavior online, and know how to respond to problematic content. For example, imagine if a stranger reaches out to your child on Instagram. Will your child ignore the message or respond? 

If you think your child is more likely to respond than ignore, they aren’t ready for a smartphone. However, they might be ready for a kids phone that has limited features. Make sure to discuss online threats before getting them a phone with social media access. 

3. Your Child Follows the Rules

Your child’s first phone will most likely come with a set of rules. For example, maybe your child will only be able to use their phone in case of an emergency. Perhaps you’ll limit the minutes or data for their phone. Regardless of the rules, your child should be able to follow them. 

Consider how well your child follows other house rules. Can they be trusted to follow them when no one is monitoring them? Expecting different behavior patterns when they get a phone isn’t realistic. If they can’t follow your rules, they’re probably not ready for a phone.

4. Your Child Has Good Communication Skills

The development of communication skills is incredibly important, and tech can interfere with that process. So before you buy, think about whether your child is able to communicate with you, other adults, and kids. You want to ensure that your child can organize their thoughts and share them aloud. Your child should also understand social cues, and be able to retain information.  

Communication via cell phone isn’t only verbal anymore. This is both a benefit and a negative. Instead of chatting, people text, message on social media apps, and use things like emojis to convey emotions. This type of communication is important too, but social skills and verbal communication skills will help them succeed in life.

5. Your Child Has the Right Temperament

Smartphones give off a great deal of stimulation, which isn’t something all children can handle. Bright lights flashing on screens are distracting to everyone, but they impact some people more than others. For example, those who have ADHD may find phones particularly disruptive. Children who’ve been diagnosed with ADHD might find it difficult to focus on a single task. The phone might be a distraction to them as they try to complete homework, or even spend time with friends in person. 

Phones also might cause extra difficulties for children who are heavily influenced by their peers. A child might be overly worried about what other kids think of their social media profile. Or they might fixate on how long it takes for a friend to message them back. 

Cellphones can cause children extra stress. Whatever the reason, your child might not have the best temperament for a cellphone. Waiting to buy one, or limiting the phone’s features, might be the best bet.

6. You’re Buying for the Right Reasons

Why does your child need a phone? That’s an important question, and one you should answer beforehand. These days, it seems like everyone has a cell phone—including young kids. However, your child’s desire for a phone because everyone else has one might not be the best reason to buy. 

There are many reasons to consider buying a phone for your child, though. Maybe your child plays sports, and you want them to have a way to contact you once practice is over. Perhaps kids access school assignments on an online portal, and a phone is a quick, easy way to log on. A phone can be a great tool, and benefit kids, if kids use them for the right reasons. 

7. You’re Ready for Your Child to Have a Phone

Before buying your child their first phone, you need to prepare. You need to have rules in place, consequences ready, and enough time to teach your children best practices.

You should set limits for how much screen time and phone time your kids have. You should specify when your child is allowed to use their phone, and when they’re not. When it comes to social media, plan how you’re going to monitor their activity to keep them safe. For example, some parents use parental controls, and some simply check their kid’s phones every now and then.

If you don’t have the time to create guidelines for cellphone use, you might want to wait to buy one. Even if you do have the time, make sure you’re mentally prepared to mentor your child on proper phone etiquette. 

The average child in the United States has their first phone by the time they’re 11 years old. However, this doesn’t mean that you should jump on that bandwagon without a thought. Your child may need a phone when they’re younger to contact you. Or your older child might not be emotionally ready for a cellphone. 

Remember that you’re making a decision about what’s best for you and your family. Consider all the factors, and take your time. Then you’ll be able to determine when it’s the right time to get your child a cellphone. 

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