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When should your kid get their first phone? And other ruminations

posted on January 15 2018

Child pleading for a phone of their own and what to do about it.

When is a child old enough to have their own phone?

16? 12? Eight? Six? After they complete a milestone? What happens if a relative gifts them one? Or they have to take public transport home from school? What if you have an old handset hanging around the house? There is no SIM card in it... it's just so they can make videos? Listen to music? Play on apps?

What if they are the only ones in their class without one? Or with one? If you think it's more secure or you need to be able to reach them? What about never?!

Parents may disagree about when is the right time. But what do you do when your child won't stop asking. What will your response be? Please can I have a phone has been ringing in my ear lately.

This could be THE question of our time and learning how to answer-- it is deep waters for new parents. In the picture above my daughter is pleading with me, this was happening over and over just after Christmas, she kept asking me pleaaaaaase... so finally I snapped a photo and went on a journey to discover what other parents are thinking.

Her friends are starting to get phones for lots of different reasons, some are hand me downs, other are bought second hand and are kept without a SIM card. Some say they bought one because it keeps them busy on long car journeys. For those parents bringing phones into their homes, it hasn't been a big deal really.

But for those who are a little reticent to dive into the technology pool, people like me who can't wrap their head around giving such an expensive and powerful tool to a little kid. I am still searching for an answer to give her and would love to hear what you think.


I want a phone note from my eight year old daughter

Note passed to me while having dinner one night last week.

Whether you think the time is right is only part of the equation-- because once they have a phone you'll have to think of how you help them handle it. A phone is a gateway to a hundred million words, photos and influences. So much is possible on this device, what rules will you put on the use of a phone?

I loved reading this post by Hands Free Mama, Rachel Macy Stafford is the author of three books as well as the Hands Free blog. She's on a mission to help herself and others make more conscious decisions to lead a meaningful life.

In Tether Yourself, she writes about teaching kids to chose the things that matter in life. She suggests tethering themselves, "To real people, real conversations, and real scenery. To furry animals, interesting books, good music, the great outdoors. To spatulas, hammers, cameras, paintbrushes, and yoga mats". I highly recommend reading this article, it is beautifully written and rings so true to me. 

We asked Sarah Sutcliffe mum of three and Little Citizens Customer Service Manager what she thinks. She has slightly older kids, a little more experience with her eldest being 11 and has some very good tips indeed.

Practically speaking, I don't think kids need a phone (usually) until they reach high school. However, the pressure for kids to have one earlier looms large, seemingly from around age seven or eight. It's more the point of owning one as opposed to the fact they have a purpose, but it's not just any old phone that's going to cut it. Someone in Annie's (age 8) class got the latest iPhone for Christmas. It's the first thing Annie told me when she came out of school on her first day back this year. My immediate response was 'why on earth'? 
From the end of September to around Christmas last year we took away Jeanie's (age 11) phone and tablet. It wasn't long before she simply didn't mention them anymore and I noticed an uptake in her reading again and we spent more time together as a family. Crucial. I'm not against the use of phones; it's an inevitability. I also don't think we, as a family, spend too much time using them, but I can't help thinking that the balance can get tipped so quickly and so easily.
I worry about the developmental impact phones are having on pre-teens. I worry about the effect on their cognitive evolution and ability to interact socially, to communicate face to face, to hold themselves well in adult company. I worry about the impact phones have on their sleep, whilst their brains are still developing and their bodies need to relax and recharge. 
Mindfulness is such a huge thing these days. You could probably find a yoga class on every street corner,  and we're more aware than ever about the positive impact of exercise, sleeping properly, eating clean. Sitting down looking at a screen for long periods of time is the polar opposite of what all those people who talk about wellbeing are recommending. But, I'm not against them. For me, it's about time. How much time is spent on them. And the longer the time, the greater the impact on those developmental cornerstones. 
We are trying to navigate through unchartered waters (there's no point in even asking 'how did mum and dad deal with this when we were young' is there?) I'm not saying we've got it right (probably we haven't) but we've put a few things in place at home to try and ensure that phones don't ever take over family life, or indeed life in general. Here's are some of our home rules:
1) Phones are not allowed upstairs at bed time or in the kitchen at meal times.
2) We have access to everything they are doing and what they is looking at on their devices and deal with any concerns we have immediately.
3) We're strict about which social media sites Jeanie, our eldest, is allowed to use (you'd be amazed how many of her friends already have Facebook profiles.)
4) On a more ambient level, we get out as much as we can. We walk a lot whatever the weather. We really encourage reading, quiet time, family time at home.
5) Lastly, and I think this is one of the greatest challenges parents face, we try to remind the children all the time that they must have their own opinions, make their own decisions, be sure enough of who they are to make the best choices they can.
We know children are impressionable and we know this can make navigating social media overwhelming for some. My hope for my children as they grow up is that they have the strength of character to rise above most of it. 
So, for the kids from seven or eight upwards, it might just be about owning a phone, just because 'everyone else has gone one'. But it's the world that's held within the phone that can create so many problems if not somehow or to some degree policed. 

Click here for more tips on keeping your kids safe on their mobile phones.

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