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When Should my Child get a Cell Phone?

We live in a world where having a cell phone by middle school is considered the norm. Kids see that their friends have one and they too NEED one.

Not only is it a means to call one another, but phones give children access to apps, such as Snapchat and Facebook, and a way to utilize the numerous social media platforms out there. (Let’s be honest—kids aren’t calling one another, they are texting and using social media!)

Giving your son or daughter a phone is a big deal and he or she needs to understand that it comes with a lot of responsibility.

So… How do you know if your child is ready for a cell phone?

Maturity. Is your child mature enough for a phone? Yes, his or her friends may have one. Yes, they just had their 13th birthday and expect one. But are they ready for access to the Internet and exposure to social media? I have had MANY immature 16-year-old patients that would lose their heads if it weren’t attached to their bodies. On the other hand, I have had numerous mature and responsible 12-year-old patients that I would trust more with a smartphone. Ask yourself these questions about their maturity level:

· Do they lose things often?

· Do they know the value of a dollar? (Phones are expensive!)

· Does he or she pick up on social cues easily? Will they avoid inappropriate usage of the Internet and phone?

· Is your child already addicted to other forms of screen time including television, Ipad etc.?

· How are your child’s grades? Is he or she doing well in school and can they handle an added distraction?

Need. Is there a need for your child to have a phone? For example, does he or she ride public transportation and need a phone to get in contact with you daily?

There are also many other factors to consider prior to making this purchase:

Sleep. Phones are a HUGE sleep disruptor. Even if your child is not staying up late texting, FaceTiming, or perusing the Internet, all of the beeps, chimes, and dings can interrupt the solid >8 hours of sleep your child needs.

Driving. This is SUPER important. Driving requires 100% of your attention. Teen drivers may feel tempted to reach for their phone to make a call or respond to a text. Unfortunately, there are thousands of deaths per year due to texting or usage of a cell phone while driving.

Hidden dangers. Smartphones open up an entirely new and scary world for kids. Access to apps, texting, and social media makes your child vulnerable to inappropriate and unmonitored content, sexual predators, cyberbullying and can increase the likelihood of developing anxiety and/or depression.

In conclusion…

Set limits. Don’t let them become a zombie phone-addicted kid! I always recommend screen-free mealtime or weekends.

Be a role model. As the parent, practice what you preach! Make sure that you are also limiting your time on your phone, not texting while driving, and allowing time for screen-free family conversations.

Monitor. Many phones also allow you to set parental controls so that you can monitor their activity on their device. Make them aware that you can, and you will monitor their phone usage on a regular basis, including their texts and social media accounts. The other option is to get your child a phone without Internet access to ensure they are not getting themselves in trouble.

Build trust. Trust is the foundation of a parent-child relationship. Have open conversations about what they are doing on their device—who are they talking to on social media? Are they friending only people they know? Are they avoiding teasing and cyberbullying others? Are they sending or receiving inappropriate photographs?

Respect. Make sure your child never forgets this 7-letter word. They should always show respect by putting away their phone when at the kitchen table, family gatherings, outings, school, and lastly at the pediatrician’s office. It is also important that they remember to put them away when having a conversation. There is nothing worse than talking to someone who is staring down at their phone!

Are YOU ready for your child to have a cell phone? This is a big responsibility for you as a parent, too! Educating your child on the dos, the don’t, and the dangers of smartphones is a task that you might not be ready for. It is imperative, however, that you have these conversations prior to making this big decision. I hope you use this guide as a way to decide if your child is ready for this “rite of passage.”

Until next time,


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