At what age can my kid have a cellphone?

You’ve decided to give your child a cellphone for safety reasons. But you’re worried. Will he spend his days glued to the tiny screen? What kind of horrors will he be exposed to on the Internet? Is it a big mistake to give him a phone at this age?

A child receiving a cellphone has become a 21st century rite of passage, but there’s a lot to consider, with all the emotional, developmental and social risks involved.

Know the risks

A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that cellphones pose possible health hazards for the brain, academic performance and behaviour.

Academic performance

Today, phones aren’t just a means to make calls. For a child, it’s used to play games, text friends, and watch videos. Thanks to its all-in-one capabilities, a cellphone can be a big distraction; particularly during school and homework time when kids should be concentrating.

Cyber bullying

Being bullied online means the bully is everywhere. A Vodafone survey found that one in five South African teens experience cyber bullying and 84% said that they know someone being bullied online. Cyber bullying may not seem as serious as physical bullying, but 60% of the participants believe that cyber bullying is worse than being bullied face-to-face.

Risky behaviour

At least 70% of children aged eight to 16 have stumbled on online pornography while innocently searching for homework-related information. What’s more; the largest group of Internet porn users is aged 12-17. Children sending inappropriate pictures is also a concern. They aren’t aware that whatever they send or share online may land in the wrong hands.

Is your child ready for a phone?

Ask yourself these questions before deciding.

  • Does your child have a history of good decision-making?
  • Does he understand inappropriate online behaviour?
  • Would your child come to you if he has phone-related issues (e.g. cyberbullying)?
  • Does your child need a cellphone (e.g. if he travels alone frequently)?
  • Will your child follow cellphone rules at home and at school?
  • Is your child able to communicate effectively, both verbally and written?
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Keep your child safe

Talk to your child

Remember when you first got a cellphone? It was exciting, right? Your child will be so wrapped up in having a new “toy” to play with that he won’t see any possible dangers. Talk to him about what could happen and what to look out for to prepare him for any dangers. Open communication will also make him feel like he can confide in you, should anything happen.

Make rules and stick to them

Keep an eye on how much time your child spends on his phone. A good way to manage this is to limit your child’s data the same way you’d limit pocket money. In this way, he won’t text as much in order to make the data last as long as possible. You can also ban certain sites to prevent him stumbling on inappropriate content.

Set social boundaries

Unless you want your child to text throughout dinner or during school hours, give them social limits. For example, no texting while with other people. Or no phone at night. Giving him set weekend “phone times” is also a good way to manage use.

Set boundaries for them

Use apps and parental controls which will limit your child’s behaviour: who they can talk to, what websites they can visit and which apps they can download. You could even limit them to a basic phone – do they really need a smartphone?

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