One of the biggest dilemmas a parent faces may seem like a simple one, but there’s much to think about before you decide to get your child a smartphone, especially when they’re in elementary school.
The average age children get their first cellphone is now at just ten years of age – but that doesn’t mean your child should get one when they’re ten!
Some of the most important things to think about include:
• Maturity of the child. Parents, keep in mind that a big reason why your child wants a cellphone is to be able to be on social media. If you overestimate your child’s maturity and underestimate the drama cell phones can bring, the fallout can be harmful. Take your time considering this decision.
• If you will be able to set up parental controls on the phone and keep them up-to-date, knowing that some Parental Controls are easier to get around than others.
• How well you will be able to ‘keep track’ of what the child is doing while on their cell (and all internet accessible devices).
There are several things you must always think about while your child has access to any cellphone or other similar device including: Sexting, Cyberbullying, Gaming Addiction, and Porn.
Sexting (sex + texting) means using technology (texts, social media sites, email, etc.) to send or receive sexy or nude images or videos. Not only are they unlawful for those under age 18 in most states, sending and receiving them are highly disrespectful to everyone involved. Listen to our short video from Country Music Artist JD Shelburne (link to his video on new website) to learn more about what sexting is and how severely it can impact others. Studies show that the pressure to send "sexy" photos via phone begins in the fifth grade, on average, and the average age of a child’s first pornography exposure is around age eight.
Cyberbullying is defined as ‘the willful, repeated harm, inflicted by using computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.’ Cyberbullying can have an extreme impact, including anxiety, depression and even suicide, and a child has a 34% chance of experiencing cyberbullying. Watch our short video from former Miss America Heather French-Henry for more information.
Another potential harmful effect of cell phone usage is a Gaming Disorder. The term ‘Disorder’ is the updated version of ‘Addiction’ and children are highly susceptible to becoming addicted to gaming. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a Gaming Disorder as a pattern of gaming behavior characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. You can find extensive information on how to prevent this addiction as well as suggested ways to help heal from this disorder, by watching Dr. Clifford Sussman’s webinar.
Last, but certainly not least, pornography is a huge concern when allowing a child internet access. A Middlesex University study found that 53% of 11-16-year-olds had seen explicit material online. Of these, 94% saw it before the age of 14, and 33% of those surveyed first saw pornography on a mobile phone.
Ways to help protect your child include locking the App Store on their cell so they can’t download any apps without your permission; setting usage controls (both ones included on programs, and purchased programs for much better control and tracking); ‘Googling’ kids’ names to see if and how accessible their information is on the internet (you may be surprised how much information is out there!); programming the phone’s speed dial for all important adults, 9-1-1 and/or local police, etc. in case of emergency; creating a code word for the child to use in case of emergency; and making sure they know not to share when they’re home alone, their date of birth or other personal information, and/or where they’re going if they will be anywhere without an adult.
As well, most smartphones have GPS technology, and users may unintentionally share their locations with the public. If a users’ photos have GPS location-tags or if a user “checks-in” to restaurants, airports, etc., friends and followers can see exactly where that person is or has been. Research to find out how to turn off the phone’s location-tracking services. Check the settings on your child’s phone, paying special attention to which applications can access location data (missingkids.org).
Deciding if a child should get a cell phone is a very important decision, and much care needs to always be practiced whenever a child of any age has one.
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