Text by Monica Oganes, M.A, Ed.S., Licensed School Psychologist, 786-600-2624
Parents may consider cell phones as essential tools for staying in touch with their children. Despite the many benefits, cell phone use has opened the door to inappropriate Internet use, cyberbullying, and even sexting. Although there is no “right” age to start allowing children to use cell phones, we can study the topic and ensure access at the right time and for the right reasons. Certainly, the conversation about the dangers of cell phone use should happen early.
Studies suggest that the recommended age to allow cell phone use is during secondary school, although we have seen an increase in use in small children. Younger children may need access to cell phones for certain reasons including medical necessities and parent travel. Also, if children are often alone or out of guidance when going to school or when they spend periods of time without immediate access to a trusted adult, a cell phone may be very important to prevent dangerous situations.
YouthBeat, a study of kids, tweens, and teens ages 6-18 conducted by C&R Research, suggested that 22% of young children use cell phones. Tweens and teens reported using cell phones more than any other technology, 60% and 84% respectively. Perhaps the need for social interaction that has dramatically been confined to cell phone use plays a part in the statistics, as developmentally, older kids are less interested in playing with toys or watching TV.
Before making a decision to allow children to have a cell phone, consider their age, maturity, personality, and family circumstances. Can your child follow rules set forth by you or by the school? Will the use of a cell phone bring potential problems? Here is some information that can help in your decision making, based partially on recommendations by the Federal Trade Commission (FCC):
- Phone options: Only provide phones that allow you to control privacy settings and child safety controls, limiting access to inappropriate downloading, texting, web access, etc. Limit social mapping (knowing where their friends are and vice versa) to friends they know. Do not allow them to broadcast their location openly. Turn on the ability for you to locate your child through their phone.
- Establish cell phone rules: Clearly explain when they are able to use their phone responsibly and respectfully. Do not allow use during class, during meals, during homework time, during sleep time, etc. Teach them to treat others kindly and expect the same to avoid cyberbullying. Set an example by not texting while driving and teach them about distracted driving, not using the device while eating, etc.
- Talk about sharing and networking: Encourage them to think about privacy and establish rules for sharing photos and videos. Teach them to get their friend’s permission to post their photo online. Give examples of good judgment when posting and model similar behavior.
- Limit social media applications: Review social media platforms before allowing children to use them. Request all passwords and let children know that you trust them but you need to monitor the activity of other users that could hurt them. Establish rules of use and age appropriate content. Check their cell phones periodically.
In response to the U.S. National Toxicology Program study indicating that exposure to wireless radiation significantly increased the prevalence of highly malignant heart and brain cancers in rodents, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended the reduction of cell phone exposure in children. Concerns that the FCC talks about the device’s possible effect on large adults are raised by the AAP, who point out that children’s skulls are thinner and can absorb more radiation. Specifically, the AAP recommends using text messaging when possible or use the speaker mode, holding the cell phone an inch or more away from the head, making short essential calls, avoid carrying the phone close to the body, download movies first and watching on airplane mode, maintaining a strong signal to reduced the radiation it gives off, avoiding making calls in enclosed transportation such as cars, and avoiding texting while driving.
Other concerns that parents must keep in mind is the potential physical health problems (such as obesity from lack of active living) and mental health problems (stemming from issues such as cyberbullying, violent content, lack of concentration, and depression) linked to cell phone use and other technology. As with all other mobile technology, children ages 0-2 should not have access to these devices (cell phones, tablets, electronic games) due to their developing brain. Children 3 to 5 years of age can be allowed about an hour of use limited to educational and age-appropriate content per day, whereas children 6 to 18 years of age can be allowed about two hours per day.
Parents must keep in mind that children who engage in excessive use of technology are at a greater risk of developing problems. Becoming educated and being aware of the risks and benefits of cell phone use will help parents make informed decisions and primordially stay involved in their child’s life, a key to healthy development.