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 own 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 your child have a cell phone, but also how to discuss all things cell phone, app, and social media related with your child before she even has a phone. 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 child a cell phone. (The truth is that this is very individual to each kid and family and there is not a blanket answer that's 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 child about cell phone use before she's even online. (This is so important because it lays the foundation while your child is 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 child what she needs to know about these topics so that she can make safe and smart 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 your kids safe online is to strictly follow app age restrictions and guidelines. This is problematic for so many reasons, but mostly because it keeps you not talking to your kids, at worst, and at best, it keeps you talking about things that are ever-changing instead of permanent rules of conduct that will carry your child through anywhere she goes online!
At a certain point, your child will naturally start turning to her friends for input more than she turns to you. You want to talk to her while she's still wired to think that what you're saying is valuable and—this is the important part—you want to get her into the habit that you 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 child's online safety, which more often than not means having these conversations before your child even has a phone.
If you're trying to figure out how close your family is to getting your child a phone, start here:
1. Is she asking for a phone?
This is a sure sign that you're close! I'm not saying go buy her 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. Does she need a phone?
What I mean by this is is she in activities that have her out late, for long periods of time, or needing to call you for a ride? Is she spending time at friend's houses who you don't know well or is she sleeping over at friend's houses, walking places alone, staying home alone, or babysitting?
3. Does she talk to you openly and honestly?
This is the most important "check" in this list. Here's why. The best way to keep your child safe online is to keep the conversation with her wide open and incredibly honest. If you already have this, then she 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 child a phone so that you can teach her what she needs to know about making safe and wise choices online, 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 child through this by clicking the button below:
5. Do her friends already have phones or access to devices?
This is by no means a reason to get your child a phone, but it is absolutely a point of consideration because if her friends are already online, then the online world is already a part of her life. It's where her friends are connecting and forming online habits. You want to get in on the habit-forming early and have an influence on your child's opinions, habits, and assumptions about how this all works.
I told you in the beginning of this article that it's important to lay the foundation for what your child knows about cell phone use and social media before you ever need it.
Now that we've covered how to know when your child 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 to talk to your child 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 age 13?
There's a lot that goes into these conversations—you have to know what messages you want to send, you want to gauge where your child is already at with her thinking about these topics (like does she already have some misconceptions that need to be cleared up?), you have to assess if she's 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 child ever gets 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 your child 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 child. 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 child today so that the foundation is laid for her to make safe and smart choices online when you're all ready to dive into getting her 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 your child 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 you do this is so that your child gets the concept and idea of why and when you use your phone and that you don’t just stare at your screen and tune out. Without telling your child what you're doing, can't you see how this is exactly what it would seem like and what she 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 you don't want to scare your child away from it, you just want to focus her online time positively, so that she doesn'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 child can have a healthy relationship with technology in Raise Your Digital Kid™!
3. Why I plug my phone in downstairs.
This is a really important conversation to have with your child because it's all about creating healthy long term habits and being as open and honest with your child as you want your child to be with you. 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 your child, nighttime is also when negative interactions with her peers can seem really overwhelming (because it's dark, she's alone, and there's no one around to tell what's going on) and you don't want her 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 your kids. This is not dissimilar to what you and I felt as kids, but when they happen online, your child can't get away from these things like we could; they're wherever her phone is. You can make a huge impact in this for your child if you teach her 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've 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 you start teaching this before your child ever posts on her own, she'll solidly know it when she does! 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 child so that she's prepared when she needs 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! Your online actions have just as much impact as your in person actions do. This is important to understand and to use to guide your 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 my daughter's 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 the foundation and expectation of open conversation about this topic!
The common thread between all of these conversations is that all of them can be had before your child is 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 works so that you can teach your child what she needs to know to make smart choices on her phone.
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 child today even if she's not online yet! This is too important to wait on!
AUTHOR: GALIT BREEN
Hi, I'm Galit. (*My name is pronounced guh-leet + means little waves, like in the ocean.) I give you the tools you need to let your kids benefit from the amazing things the online world has to offer them and create a popsicle dripping, chapter book reading (in one sitting!), leaf crunching childhood that they deserve. Welcome, I'm so glad you're here. What can you expect from me? I spill it all right here.