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What to Do if Your Kid’s Friend Gets a Phone First

Friday, 14 August, 2020

Jana Dalby

When your kids are young, it’s easy to control their screen time: It’s as simple as not handing them your iPad. But as your kids age, the kid’s first phone conversation becomes impossible to avoid. 

While you’re certainly not depriving your kids by not purchasing them a smartphone, the truth is that they’ll beg for one. And once their friends start getting wireless phones, the pressure will only increase. 

Kids get jealous, especially when it comes to technology. Be prepared: Decide on a policy before the pleading kicks into high gear.

Navigating the First-Phone Maze

When you purchase your kid’s first phone is a choice only you, their parent, can make. If your child trots out the “But my friends already have one” argument:

Talk Through the Realities of Life Online

It’s very easy to see a smartphone in someone else’s hands as a reward rather than a responsibility. Before buying your kid’s first phone, make sure he or she sees both sides of the equation.

To prepare them, you’ll want to put together a technology roadmap. There are three major things that you will want to cover:

  • Online Behavior: What kind of things are OK to say and do online? What’s inappropriate? What’s the difference between teasing someone online and bullying them? 
  • Safety and Privacy: How can kids protect themselves online? What does “stranger danger” mean in the digital world? When should they come to you for help?
  • Tool v. Entertainment: Technology can be used in different ways. It can be used to surf social media, but it can also be used to learn a new skill online. Make sure your kid understands which uses are constructive and which are dangerous. 

Those lessons are important not just for your kid’s first phone, but for every technology and every age. Take the time to talk through them. 

Explain the Health Risks

The truth is that mobile phones have negative effects for all of us — not just kids. Overexposure to mobile phones can lead to impaired vision, headaches, depression, and more.

Younger children are at an even higher risk for these issues because they are still developing. Children need to develop physical, cognitive, and relationship-building skills that excessive technology just cannot give them. 

There’s a reason why many parents wait until middle school or high school to get their kid’s first phone. Whatever age you decide is right, it’s important to set and maintain boundaries with your child. Although they may think they want a phone now, they’ll appreciate later that you waited for them to develop further. 

Weigh the Benefits of Getting a Phone

Your son or daughter is right: There are real benefits to carrying a wireless phone. Be transparent about them, and decide whether or not they outweigh the risks:

  • Physical Safety: Do they walk home from school alone? Are they going on a school trip? In those situations, you may be right that your kid’s safety is the more important consideration.
  • School Performance: In other instances, the phone may also help your kid at school. Would a phone make it easier for your kid to handle his or her homework? Would it make collaborating on school projects easier?
  • Social Life: A phone makes it easy for your kid to stay in touch with her friends. A phone is also a form of social status — that’s why they get so jealous over tech. At a certain age, your child may feel “left out” if they haven’t gotten their first phone. 

Be Frank About Finances and Responsibility

Technology can be expensive, and kids don’t always take care of things like they should. If you spend $600 on a phone and your kid loses it on the bus, would you be able to afford another? 

Your financial situation is unique, as is your kid’s degree of responsibility. It’s important to square those factors before you splurge. If you’re on the fence, buying a less expensive phone for your kid may be the right choice.

Set your budget at $100. That’s enough to get you into the phone market without worrying about whether you’ll be able to afford rent — especially if you need to replace the phone. 

Consider Smartphone Alternatives

Not every wireless phone on the market is a smartphone. If your kid truly only needs the phone for safety, ask whether he or she would consider a wireless phone without access to social media or apps. 

Games and social media fall squarely on the “entertainment” side of tech. Gabb’s wireless phones offer calling and texting functionality without all the distractions available in app stores.

There’s no easy answer to the question of when is the time to buy your kid’s first phone. But there is an easy question: Is your kid interested because his best friend has a phone, or because he’s truly ready for his own?