Love them or hate them, cell phones are here to stay and the reality of the situation is that cell phones are much more than a want but rather a necessity. As adults, we would not be able to function without our cellular phones but do kids really need to have cell phones – and if they do, what age is the right age to introduce kids to the world of cellular communications?
For most of us, when we were growing up we had gigantic immobile telephones and we also had those pesky call boxes, and the only way our parents were able to keep tabs on us or where we were at any given time, was if we took the initiative to call them (from those call boxes that seldom worked), or if we were extra thoughtful we would leave a handwritten note for them. Nowadays, parents can communicate instantly with their kids and cell phone calls are just one means of communication – there’s instant messaging, voice notes, BBMs, emails….
However, do cell phones make life easier or do they just complicate it, and again is it necessary to expose kids to mobile phones? Some parents insist that their children need to have cell phones as they help them to keep track of their movements and they also provide them with the peace of mind that if there is an emergency, their child will be able to reach them instantly. Other parents feel that cell phones cause unnecessary problems and that school-going kids are lured to sign up for applications like MXit, where kids are tricked into striking up conversations with unsavoury individuals posing as friends.
What is the right age?
The thing is that there is no right age. Obviously a child who has not yet started school should not be given anything more than a play-play cell phone but once a child is in primary school – there is really no definitive age. The age of the child should not play a major role but what parents need to look at is the child’s maturity, and if the child is responsible enough to take on the responsibilities of a cell phone. Cell phones are not hugely expensive and first-time cell users will be happy with a basic cell phone. So it’s not about being responsible enough to care for a costly possession, but a child should be warned that they have to look after it and they need to know that if they misplace it or if they break it, it might not be quickly replaced.
Apart from a cell phone being a great way for parents to keep tabs on their kids, in today’s advanced world a child needs to have a cell phone to fit in. When children start to interact with other kids, not having a cell phone of their own will make them feel like an outsider. Kids use cell phones to plan everything – so if a kid does not have one, they will miss out on all the fun. The days of passing around rolled-up handwritten notes around the classroom are gone for good and today, kids send SMSes or they chat via MXit.
Caution – cell phone user!
When parents teach their children to ride a bicycle, we don’t just teach them how to pedal and send them on their merry way. We also teach our children to be careful of cars if they are riding on a road, and we also give them necessary protective gear to keep them safe. When we hand over a cell phone to our overjoyed child, we need to tell them of the potential dangers that the mobile phone can bring. Many parents are wary of media like MXit and for good reason. There have been a few cases of adults who try to win over the trust of a child via MXit.
As parents, we need to make our children aware of the dangers and we need to remind them how important it is not to give out any personal information like their home address, the name of their school, etc. over MXit. Kids are very trusting and it’s often difficult for them to understand that seemingly -nice’ people have bad, ulterior motives. Just like we wouldn’t allow our children to ride their bikes up and down a highway – we need to help them to understand that a cell phone can get them into a lot of trouble if they don’t follow the rules.
Apart from discussing the possible risks, kids will have to learn that if they spend their time calling their friends or sending tons of SMSes, they will quickly run out of airtime. Parents should come up with a reasonable amount of airtime for their children – with a set amount in place, kids will soon discover that they need to use their phones sparingly.
Setting the rules
As with all other privileges, parents need to be the ones who set the rules that work for them. One good thing about a cell phone is that they can become a bargaining tool of sorts. If kids don’t do what is expected of them, the cell phone can be confiscated for a period of time. Just like we don’t want our children glued to a TV or computer screen, we also don’t want them to be glued to their cell phones. Set rules such as: kids cannot use or talk on their cells during meals times or while doing their homework, etc. Most parents (and most schools) don’t allow kids to bring cell phones to school, however if there is a need for mom or dad to reach kids to arrange lifts or to let them know they’ll be late, make the child aware that the cell phone must be switched off or left with a teacher during class.
As with most things in life, when used the right way – cell phones offer a number of benefits for both kids and their parents.