By Christina Tynan-Wood
It usually starts in middle school: “Mom, I want a cell phone!” All of her friends have one, but is this the right time to give one to your child?
Personally, I think it's a little late. In middle school kids’ social lives fly into the fast lane. Throwing texting, sexting, conference-call bullying, and all-night phoners at them when they are dealing with puberty, a fascination with the opposite sex, a pressing need to bathe, and algebra seems cruel.
If you give your kid a cell phone before she's clamoring for one, you can set ground rules while you are still her favorite person. You can also take advantage of the phone as a safety tool. In elementary school she will happily answer when you call, appreciate your pointers on phone manners, surrender the phone at bedtime, and listen to any other guidance you think necessary. You can explain the hazards of sexting before she sends a naked photo to that boy she likes.
Of course, when your kid gets to middle school, she might throw half of what you say out the window, but some of it will stick. It’s not the end of the world if you wait till middle school — you’ll just have to talk louder and contend with more eye rolling and door slamming to get your message across.
Don’t be shy about using your cell carrier’s parental controls to limit hours of use and block inappropriate content. Keep an eye out for bullies. Take the phone away or shut down service when you need to underline your rules. And as she and her phone skills — and responsibility — grow, add features like unlimited texting, multimedia texting, GPS, and data as a reward.
The pros: Cell phones are convenient for parents and a great safety tool — texting “Come home for dinner” is easier than calling all over town.
The cons: Kids love this technology so much you may have trouble controlling it. Did I mention sexting?
The lowdown: A great tool if handled well. Just be sure to subscribe to your carrier's parental controls to back up your rules, and keep an eye on the potential hazards: overuse, inappropriate use, all-access bullying, and, of course, sexting.
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