This article by Jana Dalby is shared with permission and originally appeared on gabbwireless.com.
These days, it isn’t uncommon to see a child as young as eight or nine years old on a smartphone. The current generation of adolescents, Gen Z, is growing up in a world where technology is as normal as air and water.
However, many parents worry about the negative effects that unfettered screen access may be causing. Especially when considering when to give kids their own cell phone, the pros and cons can be a lot to weigh. Only you can decide what’s best for your children and whether it’s the right time to give your teen her first phone, but here are some of the biggest factors to consider while deciding.
Let’s start with the cons of getting your teen a smartphone:
Combine the normal teenage struggles of insecurity, comparison, and the desire to be accepted with the power of social media and you quickly have an unhealthy situation on your hands. Social media gives teens the ability to make comments and post photos that can create deep and painful wounds. In fact, 37% of teens report being victims of cyberbullying, and 23% confess that they have said mean or cruel things online.
Bullying may be hard to avoid for your school-aged children, but the platform of social media makes it more public and often more vicious. Before giving your teen his first phone, you need to consider and discuss the effects of cruel words and whether it’s wise to expose him to that potential at such a vulnerable time in his life.
On the flip side, while a phone can help your teen interact with friends remotely, it can also be damaging to his face-to-face relationships. We’ve all seen the stereotypical group of teens, physically spending time together, but each is on his own phone, consumed by the screen at the cost of the people around him.
The irony of improved connection with those far away is that it can lure us away from the people in front of us. Because of the addictive nature of a phone, you must model good phone etiquette and help your teen to learn when it is appropriate to be on his phone and when it best to put it away, out of sight.
One of the most obvious and most devastating concerns about giving a teen a smartphone is the exposure to pornography. Even for teens who have the best of intentions and never seek out pornographic content, porn will almost inevitably find them. Catchy headlines, explicit images, and online predators unfortunately target young, naive teens on social media.
A teen’s natural curiosity paired with an inclination towards addiction can make it incredibly difficult to turn away from porn once it’s been stumbled upon. The devastating effects of adolescent exposure to porn have been well documented, and certainly, this is a risk worth considering seriously when making any decision about a cell phone for your teen.
We fear the addictive nature of technology for our children because we have already seen the effects on ourselves. With books teaching us how to break up with our phones and operating systems giving us the choice to limit our screen time automatically, we are well aware of the lure of mindless scrolling. Give a phone to a teen with even less self control, and you very quickly may have a screen-addicted kid.
Nowadays, many phones come with options to limit access to certain apps or reduce the amount of daily screen time, but oftentimes, kids can find their way around these limitations. When you do choose to give your teen her first smartphone, be sure to create healthy boundaries that can help her curb the potential for addictive behavior.
And now for the pros of getting your kid a cell phone:
A major reason for giving your teen her first phone is the knowledge that you will be able to contact each other in case of an emergency. Especially once your teen is driving and spending more time out of the home, you need to know that you can reach each other.
You certainly don’t want your child to be stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire and no way of getting a hold of you. Or what if she’s at a party that’s making her feel uncomfortable and she needs you to pick her up? You never want to be in a situation where your kids can’t reach you when they need you most.
Remember when our phones and our cameras were two different objects? Although it’s of course still possible, phones are certainly the most convenient way to take photos and capture precious memories.
Especially as your teen begins to attend more social events on her own, she will want to be able to have photos of those experiences. Of course, although access to a camera is listed here as a pro, it can also be a con when placed in unwise hands. Either way, it’s something to think about when making the choice about giving your child a phone.
Interaction with Peers
This is probably the main reason your kids want a phone in the first place. Cell phones allow us to carry out our relationships when we aren’t face to face. Especially in a world where phone interaction has become so normalized, your teen may understandably feel like he is missing out on one of the most prevalent means of communicating with his friends. Used properly, a phone can be a wonderful method for building stronger relationships and sharing life with friends and family even while apart.
Eventually, the time will probably come when the pros outweigh the cons and you decide that it’s time for your child to have her first phone. Gabb was created for that exact reason. We wanted safe phones for kids to learn about healthy technology use.
Choose a phone that will help her maintain a healthy balance between the screen and real life. Do everything in your power to block access to pornographic content and mediums for cyberbullying. In the meantime, do your best to model good smartphone usage and create an environment of trust and communication with your teen. Our children need our help more than ever as they learn how to navigate this technology-laden world.
To learn more about Gabb Wireless, visit their website here.