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To Cell or not to Cell: When to get your kids a cellphone

As your kids’ wishlists come in for the holidays, it won’t be surprising to see a smartphone on the list. While it’s pretty easy to say “no” to a seven- or eight-year-old, the difficulty (and peer pressure) ramps up significantly as kids get into tween-hood.

It’s easy in theory to practice the “Wait Until 8th” philosophy of waiting to get kids a phone until they’re in 8th grade, but as the kids grow nearer to this benchmark, the old “but everyone else has one” excuse becomes harder and harder to ignore.

There is of course, no right answer to when to get your child a phone. Perhaps your nine-year-old is responsible and spends a lot of time at sports practices and life would be easier for everyone if she could text you when she’s ready for a ride home. Or, in an opposite scenario, your 10-year-old is a habitual Fortnight player and homework avoider who could use a break from screen time. Either way, you have to gauge your child’s maturity. Is she responsible, able to resist distractions; is it likely she’d be bullied online? All of these should be factors in your decision-making process.

In a 2017 study, “Cell Phone Ownership and Cyberbullying in 8-11 Year Olds: New Research,” researchers found that children between grades 3 and 5 who had cell phones were “significantly more likely to report being a victim of cyberbullying, especially in grades 3 and 4.”

In addition to societal pressures, recent studies have shown that our bodies are penetrated by radiation from cell phones. According to the International Agency for the Research on Cancer, “the average radio frequency radiation energy deposition for children exposed to mobile phone RF is two times higher in the brain and 10 times higher in the bone marrow of the skull, compared with mobile phone use by adults.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends everyone avoid carrying cell phones against the body, in places such as a bra, sock or pocket. Also to make only short calls on cell phones and to use speakerphone mode when possible. Check out ehtrust.org for more.

Here are some helpful considerations, set forth by Commonsense Media, to help you decide whether to get your kiddo a smartphone this Christmas:
Do your kids show a sense of responsibility, such as letting you know when they leave the house? Do they show up when they say they will?
Do your kids tend to lose things, such as backpacks or homework folders? If so, expect they might lose an (expensive!) phone, too.
Do your kids need to be in touch for safety reasons?
Would having easy access to friends benefit them for social reasons?
Do you think they’ll use cell phones responsibly—for example, not texting during class or disturbing others with their phone conversations?
Can they adhere to limits you set for minutes talked and apps downloaded?
Will they use text, photo, and video functions responsibly and not to embarrass or harass others?
If you conclude that your child is ready for a phone, set a budget for a phone, decide whether you want them to have a full-access smartphone or just something they can communicate with you via calls/texts. Finally, once the phone is in place, here are a few more ideas to get you and your child on the same page.
Set rules. Consider writing a contract with your child to establish rules you can both agree on. (Google has plenty of templates at the ready.)
Set parental controls! The App store is your friend, too.

Teach your kids at every opportunity what is good online behavior and what isn’t, and stay on top of them to practice responsible behavior.
—Ann Levelle

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