Life was much easier when Apple and Blackberry were only pies.
I was training a group of adults whose job is to mentor parents. One of the subjects in which they wanted more training was how to help parents manage their children’s cell phones. Cell phones are being given to children at younger and younger ages; pretty soon, someone will invent a cell phone in the shape of a pacifier.
Since cell phones are fairly new, we are just beginning to learn how they have impacted our children and our society. The results aren’t good.
Since you want to be a responsible parent, I would like to suggest some guidelines. What makes me an expert in this area? I am no expert, but I am someone who has worked for more than 45 years with tens of thousands of students. In the past five years, I have counseled hundreds of students who are struggling with life due to their cell phones. So here are some suggestions from an old man:
1. Your child doesn’t need a phone. A child with a phone has been given a gateway through which the enemy can access their fragile hearts. You have been placed as the guardian of their life; don’t relax your guard because of what other parents do. The enemy is smarter than your child, and every day, he comes up with new plans of attack, trying to cut the weak and the young out of the herd. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). I would only give a child their first cell phone at the age of 12 or 13. The longer you wait, the more life experience and maturity they will have. Even Bill Gates didn’t let his children have a smartphone until they were in high school.
2. Family time before cell phone time. Many children feel entitled to have a phone. You do not owe your child one; you don’t need to sacrifice your family resources to get them one. And I wouldn’t buy a cell phone for a child until you establish guidelines and a contract (To learn more about contracting with your child, read my book, Rite of Passage Parenting). For example, your child can only have their phone in proportion to the amount of time they spend with their family and completing their chores. One hour of family time, sharing at the table, talking about their day and so forth earns a set amount of cell phone time. Family first; cell phone second.
3. Your child shouldn’t keep their phone in their bedroom. When your child comes home from school, their phone should be put in a box, and it should stay there until their earned usage time and be returned before bedtime. They don’t need to have their phone behind closed doors or kept in their room at nighttime. I can testify to the number of students who tell me this is where the enemy got to them. Having a phone is a privilege and a responsibility, not a right.
4. Check your child’s phone regularly. First of all, it isn’t their phone; it’s yours, and you are letting them use it. At any time, you can repossess it, and you can always orchestrate its limitations. My grandson Titus the Honorable was walking around the house at age 3, yelling “Where is my phone?” He soon learned that he didn’t have one. I would download a monitoring app that lets you track your child’s usage as well.
5. Your child’s first phone doesn’t have to be a smartphone. You will be called old-fashioned, but believe it or not, their first phone doesn’t need 5G and internet/Wi-Fi access. All they need is a basic phone with texting service. Just think of it as a cell phone with training wheels.
6. A cell phone is not a children’s safety device. Your child is at greater risk of being harmed by a cell phone than being saved by one. The No. 1 reason I hear parents say they give their child a cell phone is for their safety. That’s like saying I’m going to give my children antibiotics to carry with them in case they come down with pneumonia. There are many other ways to teach your children to be safe. Remember “stranger danger”?
Start laying the groundwork early so your child can become a capable, responsible, self-reliant adult. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6, ESV). If your child is really pressing you to get them a phone, I have a cream-colored rotary model that would make a great training phone.