When Should Children Get Cell Phones
According to Common Sense Media, smartphone use has risen drastically among children. In 2015, only 11% of eight-year-olds owned a smartphone. In 2019, that number jumped to 19%. These numbers increase with age, with over 80% of children aged 14 to 18 owning a smartphone. Cell phones continue to be more prevalent in children’s everyday lives, with some parents having no problem giving their children a cell phone at a young age, while others are concerned about the effects they can have. There is little agreement on when to give your child a cell phone, but we’ll do our best to give you the pros and cons of cell phone use and a better idea of when your child is ready.
Pros of cell phone Use
Thanks to the well-publicized use of cell phones during school emergencies, parents understandably want their children to have access to the life-saving devices, but the benefits of cell phone use can also open educational opportunities for students that didn’t exist before. Advances in technology have created a new educational environment with long-term benefits that were just beginning to realize.
Kids learn in ways they’re more comfortable with
Children often pick up new technology faster than their parents at home, so it’s not surprising that they would be more comfortable in a learning environment that included the same technological advances. The use of technology has become more common in classrooms, thanks to the abundance and availability of cell phones. Students will be expected to become experts in all types of technology as they grow up and enter the workforce, so the use of technology in the classroom is a necessary step in their education.
Students can get answers to questions quickly
Children are not patient when wanting answers, and they are curious creatures. The internet gives students countless ways to find information on any subject. cell phones have made that possibility even greater.
Audio and Video brings new life to older material
Generations of students learned about history from simply reading books but the inclusion of audio and video to a classroom can bring these stories to life. Watching man’s first steps on the moon or hearing Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech can ingrain those moments in a child’s mind. The use of cell phones in the classroom has made these moments easier to access in classrooms across the world.
Students have access to educational apps
As technology advances, so have educational apps online. Language and educational apps like Rosetta’s Stone and Khan Academy are more popular than ever before, and competition for these apps continues to grow as well. Teachers are using these apps in their lesson planning, and students can use their cell phones to follow along or continue at their own pace.
Smartphones allow more opportunities for social learning
Teamwork and social learning are important skill sets in child development. The inclusion of smartphones has made social learning like this easier and more accessible for shyer students, who can flourish in this new team environment.
Cons of Cell Phone Use
While more educational opportunities are a plus, you don’t have to look far before finding warnings about children and screen time. Increased cell phone use has added more distractions and interruptions for students, along with an increase in cheating and cyberbullying. Technology’s impact on kids can be negative in nature, while the benefits of reading to children and other non-technology pastimes such as music, writing, or art, appear to grow.
Cyberbullying is a disturbing trend affecting children around the world. In the US, 34% of kids reported having experienced cyberbullying at least once. Those being bullied are more often students of color, LGBTQ, disabled, or female, according to statistics. Cyberbullying can range from hate speech to sexual remarks to ridicule and threats and can lead to depression and suicide in some students.
Psychologists warn that cell phones are putting children’s mental health at risk, and national surveys show that kids are more anxious than ever before.
What Age Should a Child Have a Cell Phone?
At a time when cell phone use is growing, tech industry leaders, like Bill Gates, have publicly said their children didn’t receive their own phones until high school. James P. Steyer from Common Sense Media also didn’t allow his children to have cell phones before high school but has stated, “no two kids are the same. There is no magic number. A kids’ age is not as important as his or her own responsibility or maturity level.”
Parents are the best judge of whether their children are ready for a cell phone, and the lessons they teach about that readiness can begin at a young age. Modeling appropriate cell phone use, limiting access, and teaching children about the dangers of cyberbullying and how not to be a cyberbully can help prepare children for this responsibility. If you’re looking for additional tips on how to teach responsibility to your child, the Children’s Bureau parenting blog and resource page is a great place to start.
Susan J. Wood, Director of Mental Health
Susan J. Wood, LMFT is the Director of Mental Health at Children’s Bureau and has over 20 years of experience working with children in a community mental health setting. She joined Children’s Bureau in 2015 as a Program Manager in the Antelope Valley and became the program director in June 2018 where she was instrumental in opening and expanding mental health services to the Santa Clarita Valley and Long Beach.