Providing a Smart Phone Without Being Dumb

As soon as the first child in elementary school gets a cell phone, odds are that your child will come home and ask for one as well.  But should you get one?  Do they really need it?  If not now, then when?  The answer to this question is different for every family.

If your child will be riding the bus home to an empty house, a cell phone would be extremely useful in the event they cannot get into the house.  If you, like many families, no longer have a landline and the child will be home alone for ANY amount of time, a cell phone is absolutely required.  If a child will not be alone and will have access to a landline and/or a parent’s cell phone to contact the other parent, then a cell phone may be premature.

So, you’ve decided to purchase a cell phone for the child.  Just as there is no requirement to get Johnny a Cadillac when a Honda Civic will do – or even to purchase a car for Johnny at all! – there is no requirement that parents provide the latest version of an iPhone.  Parents may select a phone that does not support apps or the internet; instead, a parent may simply opt to provide a phone in case of emergencies.  Parents may also opt to purchase a phone with pre-paid minutes, so that the child’s data use is limited.

BUT, parents who are no longer in an intact family should discuss providing a phone to the child before one parent unilaterally provides a phone.  Especially if a non-custodial parent provides the phone without discussion and agreement, the custodial parent may, at best, view the phone as an interruption or, at worst, an attempt to monitor the child’s, and possibly the other parent’s whereabouts or communications with the child.  Both parents should discuss rules in both parents’ homes such as time when the phone will be off limits each evening, where the phone will be charged (such as a common area and not in the child’s bedroom after hours), and if it is acceptable to take away the child’s phone as punishment.

Ultimately, the best time to allow your child to have a phone is when you and your co-parent both decide it’s time.

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