Mobile phone usage in Canada is exploding. The latest Residential Telephone Service Survey figures from Statistics Canada show that 78% of Canadian households have mobile phones. Many of those phones are in the hands of kids.
But how young is too young for a child to have his or her own mobile phone? And if you choose to give your kid a phone, how tightly should you control its use?
One important thing to remember about today’s mobile phones, according to Toronto author and parenting expert Alyson Schafer, is that they’re not just phones anymore.
“Cell phones are really little computers, like a laptop that you carry in your hand,” says Schafer, whose parenting advice can be found at Alyson Schafer. “Do you want your kid on the Internet? Do you want your kid attached to a GPS device?”
Schafer points out that if you haven’t yet trusted your child with using the Internet independently at home, he or she might not be ready for a mobile device.
Middle school may be the right time
While she’s careful to remind parents that children mature at wildly different rates, she says many kids are ready for a mobile phone by middle school, or age 10 to 12. By then, they’re likely going places and doing things by themselves, and a mobile phone will make it easier for them to stay in touch with you. They’re also old enough to understand the concepts of privacy and the possible threats they may encounter in the wired world. However, just like adults, kids can lose or break their phones, which can cost hundreds of dollars to replace.
If you do get your kids a mobile phone, here are four tips to help keep them safer and you saner:
1. Have kids sign a contract.
Just like you may have to sign a contract with your service provider, you should consider having your kids sign a contract with you. In such a document, they acknowledge that they understand that pictures and texts sent via mobile devices are not private, that their parents have the right to monitor their phone usage, that the phone will be turned off at a specific time and so forth. The Canadian Centre for Child Protection provides a sample contract you can adapt for your kids.
2. Focus on finances.
Be clear about who pays for the device. Mara Shapiro, a mother of three in Richmond Hill, Ont., says she and her husband pay for mobile phones for their three kids, ages 17, 15 and 12. “My philosophy is, if I pay for it, I own it. It’s for my use to find you,” says Shapiro, who blogs about family life at Momfaze. “Their benefit is they can use it to call their friends.” And if they use more than their allotted minutes, or download costly ringtones, they have to pay their mom back.
3. Apply the usual etiquette.
You’ve taught your children not to gossip or bully in person, so remind them not to do it with their mobile phones. Point out that any message or image they send by mobile device can be traced and that they are not anonymous when they talk or text.
4. Keep the lines of communication open.
Let your children know that they should talk to you or another trusted adult about any strange or confusing situations that might arise when using their mobile devices.
Deciding if and when to give your child a mobile phone is a highly personal decision. The bottom line, according to Schafer, is that a mobile device is a privilege, not a right.
“You do not need a cell phone to live,” Schafer says. “You might feel socially disadvantaged if you don’t have one, but it’s not oxygen, it’s not food.”
Get more tips for parents:
- Should you give your teen a credit card?
- Are you a helicopter parent?
- Five smart ways to save for your child’s education
- Six creative ways to teach your kids about money
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