“ALL my friends have one!”
Maybe she’s asking once a week and you’re starting to feel worn down. Maybe he’s bugging you before you’ve even had your coffee. Perhaps you’ve already gotten your child their first phone, and you think it might have been too soon. How do you know if they are truly ready for a phone?
The decision to get your kid a phone is an important one and just because your child is pressing you, doesn’t mean you should take the decision lightly.
Phones are popping up at more dinner tables and in more classrooms around the country and parents are talking with me more and more about the challenges phones bring to their already hectic lives. Smartphone in hand, your kid can access the entire world with just a few swipes and clicks, and this is a huge responsibility. Before you hand your child the entire world, here are some clues that your child might not yet be ready for the responsibility a phone brings.
Clues your child isn’t ready for a phone:
1. You aren’t ready yet.
Don’t underestimate your intuition. If you’re not ready to be the parent of a child with a phone, this matters more than any other reason. Mentorship is crucial, and if you’re not prepared to model good behavior with your phone, you may want to hold off until you’re ready to take advantage of all the teachable moments that will come when you’re mindful of modeling. Teaching your child to make smart decisions and to know when to ask for help will set them up for a lifetime of successful digital communication. If the phone is primarily for your convenience, (perhaps after you waited in the rain for your child’s bus for an hour) remember that parenting a phone user comes with some new inconveniences and stresses that may outweigh the inconveniences you currently face. That balance will tip…but has it tipped yet?
2. There’s false pressure to get a phone.
If your child or other parents are pressing you, keep in mind, it’s your call. You might feel particularly intense pressure to buy your child a device around milestones such as birthdays or holidays. If you’re feeling repeated pressure from the same cast of characters, try to understand why. Have a face-to-face conversation about why these folks or your child are adamant about getting a phone and listen with curiosity and empathy to understand where they’re coming from. Maybe you can simply decide that a phone isn’t a suitable holiday or birthday gift. Untangle the act of buying a phone from life events and futile calendar dates and instead focus on modeling good phone manners.
3. You’re thinking a magic milestone will make them ready for a phone.
A birthday milestone, or some far-off date in the future will not ensure your child’s readiness for the responsibility that comes having the entire world a swipe away. Instead, consider independence milestones—ways for your child to demonstrate readiness. Here are some milestones to consider:
- Making lunch without help
- Walking home from school alone
- Spending a brief time home alone
- Babysitting a younger child for short windows of time
- Riding public transit independently
- Organized with homework
If your child is demonstrating independence in many of the above milestones, they could be ready or ready soon. If not, you can consider setting progressive milestones for your child to work towards to demonstrate readiness.
4. Lacking social decision-making ability.
Another indicator to consider is your child’s ability to make decisions in social situations. If your child acts impulsively, is quick to show anger, or has trouble saying sorry for hurt feelings, these could all be signs to hold the phone until they’ve been able to demonstrate some of these life and social skills consistently. In my course: Phonewise Bootcamp we dive into how to assess these skills and help your child practice them.
5. Your child hasn’t had the opportunity to practice yet.
Give your kid the chance test out a phone with some training wheels by learning on your phone or a shared family device, and talk about which skills are most important to demonstrate. Some simple training wheel activities can be answering a phone, making a call, leaving a voice message, and sending a text to another family member. Practice patience in waiting for return text messages and phone calls and model good behavior for your phone user in training.
6. Your child won’t react well to certain content.
With a smartphone, your child will have greater access to pornography and other inappropriate content. If your child is unable to resist, or you think they lack the ability to make sound decisions when it comes to handling potential contact with strangers, and disturbing images, this could also be a red flag to hold off on a phone.
7. You haven’t had an open and curious discussion yet.
If the only conversation you’ve had with your child about a phone is why they can or can’t have one, it’s a good idea to hold off until you’ve had some open discussions. Here are some questions to ask. Make sure you listen with curiosity, not judgment:
- What do you plan to do with the phone? Games? Apps? Texting? Social media?
- What do you think could be fun—and not fun—about group texting?
- What should you do if you text someone and you don’t hear back right away?
- Have your friends ever showed you someone else’s text messages or emails?
8. You haven’t yet reflected on the phone culture of your family.
Considering giving your child a new phone can turn into a great occasion to examine your relationship with tech. Are you a nonstop texter? Do you overuse social media? Do you sleep with your phone? Think about your modeling and if there are issues you can challenge yourself to address, before you give your child a phone. Consider if there will be times when a phone will be off-limits, what apps are okay to use, and what consequences your child will be subject to for misuse. Thinking about the rest of the family, are there siblings who will want to use the phone? Where will the phone go at bedtime, during homework time, or while eating? Who will pay for the plan? What if the phone is lost? These are all essential parts of everyday life with a phone to discuss in advance.
Your personal experience navigating relationships and tech can be helpful to your child as they get ready for life with a smartphone. Remember, your knowledge is powerful, and try hard not to freak out when things go wrong in their digital world. Things will go awry—look at these times as an opportunity for a teaching moment as we all get used to parenting in the digital age.
If your child is ready or almost ready for a phone, great! This is also the perfect time to sign up for Phonewise Boot Camp For Parents: Setting your kid up for success with their first phone. Class is self-paced but you can do it with your spouse or a friend! Got questions? Get in touch!
Want to know more about this course? You can see a preview here.
(Click the link below for more information or to register for course.)
This course will cover:
- Assessing your family’s current digital situation
- Planning and organizing your physical space at home to maximize positive outcomes
- Common digital citizenship challenges for new smartphone users
- What social skills kids need to be successful with their phones and more.
- Planning for boundaries around when your child will have access to the device