Making the decision to buy your child a cell phone is not an easy one. As the holidays approach, there's a good chance that kids who don't already have their own phones will put one on their wish list.
But just because kids can ask for a phone, does that mean they're ready for one? To answer that question, parents should consider the following issues and make sure they're prepared for their child to have that level of responsibility.
1. Is a cell phone a want or a need? Most kids want a cell phone because they think it's a status symbol, or because their friends have one. However, neither of those points address the question of whether having their own phone is a necessity. Do they need to be able to contact you in case of emergencies? Do they need to be able to search the internet for information? Do they need to be able to communicate with friends or use certain apps? Do they spend most of their time with you or in the care of another adult you know and trust? If your kids aren't frequently in situations where they have to function independently or without reliable supervision, you may decide that a cell phone is more of a luxury than a day-to-day need.
Are they mature enough to handle the responsibility? Cell phones are expensive, powerful devices that must be protected and treated with respect at all times. Do your kids demonstrate the responsibility necessary to respect family rules and manage their behavior in other areas of their life? Do they take care of other items you have bought for them?
Do you have the right securities in place? Even the most responsible kids still need supervision when using a cell phone because it isn't just a helpful resource for finding information––it can also unintentionally create an avenue for exposure to things your kids may not be ready to see or provide predators greater access to their devices and information. As a parent, you also have an obligation to be aware of the popular apps and how they work, set up the appropriate privacy settings, stay on top of critical security news and updates, and download a safety app that can watch out for you and your family. One such resource is the OffenderWatch Family Safety App, a free download that provides live location trapping and public records searches to help you stay informed about potentially dangerous child predators in your area. Learn more about the freeFamily Safety App, as well as other premium add-on features available, at www.offenderwatch.com/offenderwatch-family-safety-app.
For more information, visit the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children or check out this article about Online Predators and the Grooming Process for tips to help parents identify red flags and talk to your children about online safety.