Back-to-school with a phone in hand – or not?
With the astounding array of fun apps and cool functions available on the latest smartphones, it’s no wonder that their popularity is at an all-time high and kids younger than ever are asking to have their own. Or, in some cases, begging incessantly.
The question is, how young is too young? As a parent, how do you know when the time is right for your child to have the responsibility of being a smartphone owner and user?
Some parents feel that providing a child with a phone makes them safer because a child always has access to their parents, and the GPS function on the phone can track a child’s movements and whereabouts. Others argue that a child in crisis may not have the wherewithal to use a cellphone, and that the technology gives them a false sense of security and may discourage them from using their common sense and avoiding potentially unsafe situations.
Perhaps you haven’t made up your mind yet, and are still doing your research. We have some information that may help inform your decision as you contemplate sending your child back to school with a cellphone in hand.
How much screen time is unhealthy?
Ultimately, any time a child spends looking at a screen is time they’re missing interacting with people and the real world around them. But according to the Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS)1, the following are reasonable guidelines for children and adolescents:
- Children under 2: no screen time is recommended.
- Children 2-4: less than one hour a day.
- Children 5-11 and youth 12-17: no more than two hours a day; lower levels are associated with health benefits.
The CPS also states that screen time harms aspects of cognitive and psychosocial development.
How can I manage what my child views online?
A smartphone is, essentially, a tiny portable computer, and your child can access the Internet on that device. The first step is to set ground rules, including how much time a child is allowed to use the device. The second is ensuring that you have access to all of your child’s passwords so you can monitor usage. It’s not a matter of not trusting your child – it’s a matter of not knowing and therefore not trusting the people he or she may be interacting with online.
Your child may be too young to legally have an account on Facebook, Snapchat Instagram, and Twitter – the minimum age for all four is 13 – but if they are old enough, make sure you have their login information and check their accounts and activity regularly. Check their email accounts and texting activity too.
You may also want to put parental controls on your child’s devices – and on any other devices you have in your home. Check out this article on PC to find out more about how you can make device usage safer and more secure for you child. For more information on how to block specific websites, apps, music, TV shows and other content on iPhones and iPads, visit Bright Pips.
What apps are safe and which should be avoided?
There are literally thousands of apps floating around out there. If your child has asked if he can download one, do some homework first:
- Check the app’s rating in the app store to determine if it is age-appropriate.
- Look the app up on Common Sense Media, a database that contains reviews and age ratings for thousands of apps, movies and more.
- Check to see if there are in-app purchases involved. If you don’t want to be nagged by a child who wants to purchase coins, tokens or other items needed to get past a certain level in the game, make sure you don’t download apps with in-app purchases.
- Read app review blogs like Best Apps for Kids or Smart Apps for Kids.
Ultimately deciding when your child is ready for the responsibility of having a cellphone is up to you, because you know your child and his or her maturity level better than anyone. But when the time comes, being involved, monitoring usage carefully, and demanding that your child follow the rules you’ve laid out is the best way to keep your child as safe and healthy as possible in the digital age.
For more pros and cons where kids and cellphones are concerned, visit WebMD.