By Amy Meyers Steinberg
The issue of cell phones and kids seems to be an on-going debate for many parents. The devastating murder of a 13 year old Virginia girl has pushed phone safety among the younger set to the forefront.
Investigators say Nicole Lovell was using an app called Kik – a messaging system that allows users to stay anonymous by NOT linking to phone numbers or email addresses. Just pick a user name and start chatting. There’s a host of other apps just like Kik that teens and tweens are using to connect without their parents’ knowledge. TeenSafe is an app that allows parents to monitor what their children are doing online. They’ve compiled a list of apps that parents should look out for.
As with most issues, there are pros and cons to letting kids have their own cell phone. On the plus side, it definitely makes communication easier. For kids whose parents work long hours or for children of divorce, the need seems obvious. For kids who play sports or take part in other after school activities, having a phone can be quite helpful.
But it’s sometimes hard to justify. Parents may feel their child isn’t deserving or isn’t responsible enough. Today’s smart phones provide our kids with much more than a way to make a call. Some parents feel stuck in the middle. They may feel peer pressure from other families so their children won’t be the only one without a phone. How do you decide? When is the right time to buy your child their own cell phone? Is there a “magic” age where they become responsible enough?
While every situation is different, here are a few things to consider.
The world has changed. When we were growing up, kids could stay outside all day until your mother yelled for you to come in for dinner. We could walk to school or ride our bikes with friends or even by ourselves. But those times are long gone. Today’s world requires parents to know where their children are and who they are with at all times. The Montgomery County woman who let her kids walk to a neighborhood park by themselves got in trouble with Social Services.
Violent attacks around the world and trouble here at home have parents constantly on guard to keep their children free from danger. A phone often seems like a way to hang onto your child and keep them safe even from afar.
There’s nothing wrong with getting your child a phone as long as you make it clear that the phone comes with expectations. Parents need to set very clear boundaries about what is acceptable and what is not. And nowhere is it written that your tween needs the latest and greatest model. Start with a flip phone and they’re more apt to use it only in emergencies.
Along with sexting and cyber bulling comes a whole new generation of things for parents to think about. So while your child may think it’s an easy decision, it’s not. Like anything else, it’s all about compromise. Whatever you decide is right for your family, it’s important to remember that owning a cell phone is not a right, but rather a privilege.
By Amy Meyers Steinberg, JCS Marketing & Community Engagement Specialist
Because parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual, JCS offers a variety of programs, services, education and support for parents and families with children of all ages. Click here or call 410-466-9200 to learn more.