One of the questions that I'm asked the most often is how young is too young to get a cell phone for kids.
Just this week, I got these emails:
My daughter is in fourth grade and she seems so young, but all of her friends already have phones. Should I get her one?
I know that it's much too soon for me to discuss this with my son, but he's already asking about a phone!
I can tell that we're almost ready to "go there" with my twins, but I'm not ready yet!
Every single one of these parents is on the exact right track, because they're really listening to what their kids are telling them and keeping a strong pulse on what their comfort level is with each ask. These are both so important!
There are a lot of misconceptions about the right age to not just let our kids have cell phones, but also how to discuss all things cell phone, app, and social media related with our kids before they even have phones. Yes, really!
Today, we're going to clear some of this up.
First we're going to discuss the myths and truths about how to know if you should get your kid a cell phone. (The truth is that this is very individual to each kid and family and there is not a blanket answer that is correct for everyone and I'm going to show you the first steps to take to get a read on how ready your family personally is.)
And then we're going to discuss 14 conversations to start having with your kids about cell phone use before they're even online. (This is so important because it lays the foundation while your kids are still listening to you and before you even need it! I'm going to cover the conversation topics here. For an in depth look and a step by step plan for how to teach your kids what they need to know about these topics so that they can make safe and wise choices online, check out my course Raise Your Digital Kid™. I walk you through every little detail in there!)
The biggest misconception about kids and cell phone use is that the best way to keep our kids safe online is to strictly follow app age restrictions and guidelines. This is problematic for so many reasons, but mostly because it keeps us not talking to our kids, at worst, and at best, it keeps us talking about things that are ever-changing instead of permanent rules of conduct that will carry them through anywhere they go online!
At a certain point, our kids naturally start turning to their friends for input more than they turn to us. We want to talk to them while they're still wired to think what we're saying is valuable and—this is the important part—we want to get them into the habit that we talk about these things together as a family. Setting a system like this in place before you ever need it is the #1 thing you can do to ensure your kids' online safety, which more often than not means having these conversations before your kids ever have phones.
If you're trying to figure out how close your family is to getting your kid a phone, start here:
1. Are they asking for a phone?
This is a sure sign that you're close! I'm not saying go buy them a phone today, I'm saying that the time is sooner than you might think and it's time to prepare for the conversations that need to be had about phone use!
2. Do they need a phone?
What I mean by this is are they in activities that have them out late, for long periods of time, or needing to call you for a ride? Are they spending time at friend's houses who you don't know well or are they sleeping over at friend's houses?
3. Do they talk to you openly and honestly?
This is the most important "check" in this list. Here's why. The best way to keep kids safe online is to keep the conversation with them wide open and incredibly honest. If you already have this, then they may be more ready than you think!
4. Are you ready?
This matters! If you are willing to have all of the conversations that come with getting your kid a phone so that you can teach them what they need to know about making safe and wise choices, then you can feel confident to take this first step. For one of my kids this meant getting my old phone with access to photos and texting only. This was a great starter for all of us! Learn more about my step by step program that teaches exactly how to guide your kids through this below.
5. Do their friends already have phones or access to devices?
This is by no means a reason to get your kids a phone, but it is absolutely a point of consideration because if their friends are already online, then the online world is already a part of their lives. It is where their friends are connecting and forming online habits. You want to get in on the habit-forming early and have an influence on your kids' opinions, habits, and assumptions about how this all works.
I told you in the beginning of this post that it's important to lay the foundation for what your kids know about cell phone use and social media before you ever need it.
Now that we've covered how to know when your kid and family are ready to get a phone—remember, this is very individual and not based on age, but rather on the answers to those five questions above!—I want to get into how we talk to kids about cell phone and social media habits and, just as importantly, when.
My youngest has been a part of all of these kinds of conversations almost since we started having them with my oldest. By the time he is ready to have a cell phone of his own, he will have had years of foundation laying conversations. Who do you think will be better prepared to make good choices online, him or his friend who is handed a phone and a cell phone contract at 13?
There is a lot that goes into these conversations—you have to know what messages you want to send, you want to gauge where your kids are already at with their thinking about these topics (like do they already have some misconceptions that need to be cleared up?), you have to assess if they're learning what you're teaching, and, if not, how to layer the learning so it sticks. This is exactly what I teach in Raise Your Digital Kid™!
You can start laying this foundation way before your kids ever get a cell phone. In fact, you could start today!
To show you how this works, I’m showing you 7 examples of conversations to have with kids about cell phone use and habits in this post, and another 7 are available in the download that goes along with it.
You are the perfect person to have these conversations with your kids. Get inspired. Get your mental gears turning. Start to see what’s really possible.
Let's look at some conversations you can start having with your kids today so that the foundation is laid for them to make safe and wise choices online when you're all ready to dive into getting them a cell phone.
1. What to do if you’re on your phone and someone you know comes into the room.
Talking about this teaches our kids that people always come before things. A friend once told me that looking at your phone while you're with someone you know is like sending that person the message that you'd rather talk to anyone else but them. This was a really powerful message for me to hear that really stuck with me and I bet it would do the same for your kids!
2. What I’m actually doing on my phone.
This can be as simple as, "I'm looking for a recipe for dinner and I'm having a hard time choosing which one." The reason we do this is so our kids get the concept and idea of why and when we use phones and that we don’t just stare at our screens and tune out. Without telling our kids what we're doing, can't you see how this is exactly what it would seem like and what they would naturally see as an example to emulate? Doing this also serves as a reminder to not just tune out! Cell phone use and social media are definitely not all bad and we don't want to scare our kids away from it, we just want to focus their online time positively, so that they don't even have time for the negative. I go into a lot of details about great uses of online time and exactly how to teach this so that your kids can use the internet safely, wisely, and kindly—the way it was meant to be used—in Raise Your Digital Kid™!
3. Why I plug my phone in downstairs.
This is a really important conversation to have with kids because it's all about creating healthy long term habits and being as open and honest with our kids as we want them to be with us. I had to tell my kids that I needed to make this switch because I was developing the bad habit of picking up my phone in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep. For our kids, nighttime is also when negative interactions with their peers can seem really overwhelming (because it's dark, they're alone, and there's no one around to tell what's going on) and we don't want them to feel alone if something like this happens.
4. Why I respond to everyone in my feed in the exact same way.
The feelings of jealousy, being left out, and slighted are extremely real (and extremely hurtful) for our kids. This is not dissimilar to what we felt as kids, but our kids can't get away from these things; they're wherever their phone is. We can make a huge impact in this for all of our kids if we teach our kids that there's a better way: treat everyone kindly online. Respond to comments, like photos, rinse, repeat.
5. That when I delete something like a text or a photo that I have sent to someone on my phone, it doesn’t delete on anyone else’s phone.
The concept of losing control of whatever you post and share online is such an important (and hard to understand) one, that it's good to start layering this learning very early on. It's so abstract to think of deleting something on your own phone and having it still be on someone else's phone! If we start teaching this before our kids ever post on their own, they'll solidly know it when they do! Raise Your Digital Kid™ is filled with this kind of layered learning—what to teach and how to teach it—so you know exactly what to teach your kids so that they're prepared when they need to make these choices!
6. That “opting out” of a group text is like having your friends all interacting in front of you and not responding to a single word they say.
This is a really interesting conversation that I just had with my kids because one of my girls was saying that she doesn't like group texts very much and I completely understood, because I get overwhelmed by them, too. As I was giving her this advice, I realized how important it was for me to realize this as well! Our online actions have just as much impact as our in person actions do. This is important to understand and to use to guide our actions!
7. Bonus: An option for the introvert who is overwhelmed by group texts is to text each friend individually.
When my kids and I were discussing this, one of them suggested this as an alternative to participating in the group text. I thought this was so smart! Notice how she said to text each friend because the point isn't to leave anyone out, the point is to connect. An added benefit of starting to have these conversations early on is that it sets the tone that this is how you discuss things like this in your home. I never would have known her discomfort with group texts, that she wasn't participating in them, or gotten her insight on how she solves this problem if we hadn't been having these conversations. It's so important to lay this foundation and expectation!
The common thread between all of these conversations is that all of them can be had before your kids are even online. In fact, it's really powerful to start in this way!
I've been doing this for a long time and I've finally put all of that experience, knowledge, and testing into a program that only teaches you strategies for building and launching an ongoing dialogue that actually work so that you can teach your kids what they need to know to make wise choices on their phones.
It’s called Raise Your Digital Kid™. And it’s the most comprehensive, step by step system out there.
Note: Make sure that you download the 7 conversations about social media you can have with your kids today even if they're not online yet! This is too important to wait on!
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AUTHOR: GALIT BREEN
Hi, I'm Galit. Best selling author, TEDx speaker, parent educator, researcher, mom. I'm going to help you raise and teach your digital kids. I've been teaching and working in social media for 8+ years. If you are so over vague, surface level online safety advice and are ready to actually teach your kids and students what they need to know to make an impact + raise a leader, we're going to get along just fine. Learn more about me here.