Oct 29, 2018
by editorial team
Did you know that the average age of owning a cell phone is now only six years old?
It’s true, according to one survey.
Deciding when your child is ready to have one deserves a lot of thought. Are they ready for the responsibility and maturity associated with having a cell phone? Are you aware of potential risks—health, developmental, and emotional—from cell phone exposure and use?
This article will highlight key considerations as you decide when to get your child their first phone.
Cell phones provide parents with many reassurances: they are a great way to keep in touch with children (making sure they arrived safely to school or an afterschool activity, or managing logistics). And it works both ways! If your child needs to ask you something, they can simply call or text you instead of having to agonize over a decision on their own.
Plus, most smartphones also support tracking programs like Find My Friends, which some families use to keep a closer eye on their child’s location in case of an emergency.
The bottom line? Having a cell phone can come in handy in everyday situations and emergencies alike. But there are also some potential risks to consider.
1. Radiation Risk
Since cell phones use radio waves, cell phone users are exposed to radiation as well. It’s not the same type of radiation that you get from an X-ray, but it's still radiation that poses risks: health, mental, emotional, and developmental.
While the science on whether cell phone use increases the risk of brain cancer is strengthening, simple tweaks in habits can minimize the risks associated with radiation by encouraging your children to use earphones instead of holding the phone directly to their ear.
Also, make sure that they don’t sleep with their phone under the pillow, and remind them to carry their phone in their bag instead of in their pocket to minimize potential risks to the reproductive system. The more distance from the cell phone, the better since radiation decreases with distance.
Better yet, encourage them to leave the phone on Airplane Mode whenever they don't need to be accessible. Even better: encourage the habit of turning off the cell phone when the wireless connection isn't needed.
2. Disrupted Sleep Patterns
Sleep is very important, especially for growing children. Having a cell phone may push one’s bedtime later.
In addition to the blue light exposures from the cell phone screen disrupting sleep cycles, texting and browsing social media in the bedroom will most likely delay sleep time.
To make sure your child gets enough sleep, set strict limits for cell phone use and designate certain hours when cell phones should be turned off completely (e.g. an hour before bedtime). It might also be helpful to ban phones in bedrooms, especially during sleep time. A family technology charging station, a technology "home," is a great way to consolidate all technology into one public area for their bedtime.
3. Driving While Texting
Driving while texting can be more dangerous than driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
This is a very serious issue, whether your teen may drive while texting or whether your child of any age is a passenger in a car with a driver who is distracted by texting. So please talk to them about the dangers of driving while distracted.
Don’t assume your child knows this. It’s very important that they understand the underlying reasoning behind your request, and the consequences this behavior may lead to (for them and for those around them).
4. More Than Just a Phone
Most smartphones have the capabilities of a small computer, and there’s more to them than texting and calling.
When you’re considering getting your child a phone, wonder how your child will react to having access to movies, music, video games, and social media. Is your child ready to regulate that access?
If your child is still young, you could get them a basic, old-school phone that does not have all these extra features. In addition to that, some newer phones will allow you to block Internet access, or block certain features entirely.
5. Cell Phones May Increase Anxiety and Depression
Cell phones can quickly lead to social media use. Studies show that social media use can quickly become addictive and contribute to anxiety, depression, loneliness, and more. The many texts and social media posts from friends are certainly fun but also distracting and time-consuming. And feeling left out will certainly occur more often. In this case, ignorance can be bliss.
Maturity and responsibility levels matter more than their age or their grade.
Does your child lose their things often? Are they generally responsible? Can you trust them with simple tasks and know they will be completed on time?
Developmental signs like these could help you determine whether or not your child is ready for the responsibility of owning a cell phone.
Finally, remember that “want” does not equal “need.”
For example, children who are carpooling may not need a cell phone (even if all of their friends have one). However, if your child is traveling alone (e.g. taking the subway to school), a cell phone might be a necessity.
The longer parents can delay getting children a cell phone, the fewer battles parents will have with children about these addictive devices, the less radiation exposure children can receive, and the more opportunity they will have to develop from real life, in-person experiences.
Check out our 21 Day Digital Detox program for tips, tricks and expert advice to protect yourself and your children from unnecessary radiation exposures from our wireless and wired devices. It does not promote banning technology, but encourages a healthier balance with technology.
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