Sue Scheff: Cell Phones and your teens and kids - What is the right age for them to have one?

Sarah Newton and Lisa Warner have an amazing Blog, FINK (Family Interaction Nurtures Kids, which offers up-to-date advice, articles and resources for raising kid in today's world!Here is a recent post that I thought many parents can relate to and learn from.
When is the right age to get your child a mobile phone?
By Sarah Newton
I get asked this question a lot and to me it is so immotive and difficult to answer as each child and each family is different. And my opinion may differ from yours. There are so many things to consider.

1. Why does she want one or why do you want her to have one? Most girls will start asking for a phone when they move up to secondary school ( 12 years old) the phone becomes a social thing and a status symbol to them. Boys tends to be a bit later when they want to communicate with girls. Any requests before this time will simply be just because they like the look of them and can generally be disregarded. Most parents will buy their children one before this so they can know where they are – if this is the case there are other devices out there that can do that for you.

2. What sort of phone does she want and what features has that phone got? If she is a teen or nearly teen she will want the best pink one she can find and it will have a camera and she will want access to the internet. Girls love phones with cameras and take some very sultry and sometimes private pictures on them. They also want all the features so make sure that you call the mobile provider and ask how to turn the phone from adult to child mode.. All phones are set to adult so porn and other in unsavoury things are likely to appear on them.

3. The networks do not know how old your child is so when she signs up for the latest ring tone and suddenly her credit disappears as they take money out weekly, you can have very little to fall back on as the phone is always in an adults name.

4. The bill –get pay as you go and/or a deal with unlimited texts – the only person she is ever likely to speak to is you; the rest will be texts and lots of them, so don’t fall short by assuming your child will use the phone in the same way you do. You will need to make very clear guidelines with your child about the bill and who pays for what and how much. Phone bills can run away with you.

For those of you who have been around me for a while, you will remember my horror when Bronte’s dad bought her a phone at 8 years old. To me, having a phone is a responsibility issue; if they have showed they can be responsible in the past, then it may be a good idea.

If they have not, then it may not, so there is not one “correct” answer. Personally, if someone had not bought my daughter one (without my permission), she would have only got one when she could take full responsibility for the bill. We believe that we give them phones for their own safety, but is that really true? Did we not survive without them? Who, like me, can remember the mobile of the 1980’s? It was very uncool (and expensive) to have one. Anyway, it is a personal choice for you and your family.

Make sure you are making that choice from your own values and parenting purpose, not from pressure from the outside world. Oh, and get the boundaries very clear up front; what is and is not acceptable. Here are the boundaries around my daughters phone.

•She takes full responsibility for the money and topping up. We never give her money for her phone and after four years of having it, she has never asked. When we go out the phone is on silent.
•She talks to no-one for more than 20 minutes.
•She only gives her number to people she knows.
So there you are, make sure a phone is in line with your family and how you want to parent.

If it is and you get one, set some clear boundaries. Oh, and my 8-year-old has several old Blackberry, my old Nokia, my old Samsung…. She seems to care not that they have no credit; she still talks away and texts me!

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