Did your child get a cell phone from Santa? Cell phone, and in particular smartphone, use by school-aged children is increasingly common and can raise many safety and health concerns for students and parents alike. Robin Batten, coordinator of the Cyber Safety Program with the Washtenaw Area Council for Children, has many useful tips on how to help kids safely enjoy their own cell phones.
Difficult to pick a precise age
Batten says it is difficult to pin down a precise age for when a child should be given the responsibility of having a cell phone. This is because every child is unique and every household is different. However, Batten does offer general guidelines.
“With discretion, I would say that middle-school age is appropriate,” she stated. “Most kids have cell phones by the time they have reached middle school and some children by the time they reach third grade.” She added that there is an incredible responsibility that a child has in owning a phone.
“When a child gets a cell phone, if it is smartphone, they have access to the world,” because the internet is accessible on smartphones. “They could be in communication with people they don’t know and sharing more information than they should,” explained Batten. “Everything is one or two clicks away. ”
Batten added that smartphones also open the door for dangers such as cyberbullying, sexting, and online predators, and present new challenges for children, such as protecting their digital reputation and privacy.
Parents take charge
“In many situations, parents are not using parental controls and filters on the kids’ devices,” she added. “Nor are they regularly monitoring their children’s cell phone and online activity.” Parents should absolutely monitor their child’s cell phone use, according to Batten. Parents should know their child’s password and monitor their texting, email communication, and websites visited in order to preserve their child’s— and possibly others’— safety.
Batten said that teaching good digital citizenship is important and we should model the behavior we want to see in our children.
Washtenaw Area Council for Children is a nonprofit that serves children, youth, teens, families, and professionals. Its mission is to end child abuse and neglect in our county. Visit washtenawchildren.org for more information.
Quick Answers to Common Concerns
What can a child do to prevent bullying via the cell phone?
Be selective about who they are sharing their cell phone number with, the information they share about themselves, and who they text and talk to. If they become a victim of cyberbullying, do not respond to the bully; save the evidence and report it to a parent or another trusted adult. If it occurs through a messaging app or social media, they can also report the bullying behavior in the app or on the site. Only friends should be connected with children through their cell phones and other devices. Parents can also monitor their contacts.
What discussion should a parent have with a child about cell phone usage? Parents should keep an open line of communication with their children about technology use. Parents should talk with their children about the responsibilities that come with having a cell phone, the potential dangers and how to protect themselves. They should set rules and expectations for having a cell phone with clear consequences. Parents should encourage their children to come to them if something makes them feel uncomfortable.
Instructing a child on phone use during classes at school.
Most of the teachers and schools have rules for cell phone use in their classrooms and in the buildings. The students are not allowed to have their phones out during class time. They are told to put them away. I’ve seen teachers who have a place for the students to put their cell phones when they enter the room.