Should kids have cell phones? Find out what the experts say about kids, phones, and today’s connected world.
Raise your hand if you grew up in the 80s or 90s and left home for hours without telling your parents where you were going. Maybe you were out on your bike with a group of friends. Perhaps you went for long walks alone in the woods. Maybe you were just hanging out.
As parents and caregivers, would you even think about letting your kids do the same thing? Maybe you would, especially with the help of cell phones and technology that keeps us connected. But should kids have cell phones? Is it wrong for them to be connected all the time? Or do cell phones help our kids stay safe?
There are plenty of opinions on the question. Indeed, there are good reasons that kids should and should not have cell phones. Here are some of the pros and cons, as well as research on kids, cell phones, and helping our kids navigate the world.
Should Kids Have Cell Phones:
Like it or not, cell phones aren’t going away anytime soon. In many respects, they’ve made our lives easier. We can call home from the grocery store to find out if we need milk. We can use the GPS on our phones when we are lost. We can text our friends if we are running late for an event. What about kids, though? Here are some advantages to letting our kids have cell phones.
We can keep tabs on them (and they can keep tabs on us)
You don’t need to be a helicopter parent to worry about whether or not your kids are at school, on their way home, or somewhere they aren’t supposed to be. A simple text here and there is enough to keep you in the loop without cramping their style.
We can teach them how to phone responsibly (including texting and social media)
We teach our kids how to navigate face-to-face social interactions, and online interactions are no different. Although they are digital natives, we as adults still have more experience making social mistakes, working through tough situations, and communicating in an ever-changing world. We owe it to our kids to help them learn these skills.
Safety (bad weather, traffic accidents, other emergencies)
A lot of parents feel like kids should have cell phones as safety devices. They can call their parents if they’re running late, or for older kids, they can send a text if they need help getting out of an unpleasant social situation. And even though we hope this is never the case, giving kids the ability to get in touch with emergency responders if they need to is one of the biggest reasons parents give for letting kids have cell phones.
Making friends (it’s how their friends are communicating)
Kids communicate with each other through text messaging and direct messages in social media. Even more than an “everyone is doing it” argument, it’s simply the way this generation works.
Education (helpful apps)
There are plenty of online sources and apps that can help kids learn. From learning languages with Duolingo to using Khan Academy to get help with math, there are plenty of tools that kids can access with cell phones that have positive uses.
Should Kids Have Cell Phones:
For every positive, there is a negative, and there are perfectly good reasons to keep cell phones away from your kids.
If kids aren’t careful with privacy settings or what they share online, cell phones could be a way for ill-intended people to track their location. With the right settings, this is relatively easy to avoid, but it’s certainly something to worry about.
Bullying is more of a problem than ever, if for no other reason than social media sites can make it nearly impossible for kids to escape harassment. It’s something to be aware of as a parent.
The Internet is forever
What goes online stays online. Every poor decision, every rude comment, and every bad photo can gain a life of its own online, even if you try to delete it. We all made plenty of mistakes as tweens and teens; now imagine if those mistakes could follow you anywhere.
There’s little argument that cell phones can be a big distraction. They interrupt homework, they can keep kids up too late, and they can draw your attention away from the things you should be focusing on.
Potential for driving and texting
Distracted driving, including texting and talking on a cell phone, kills approximately nine people and injures about 1,000 people every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With cell phones so ubiquitous, this puts a major temptation into the hands of your teen driver.
Should Kids Have Cell Phones:
What Do the Experts Say
With all the pros and cons of cell phone usage, what do the experts have to say? One research study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that using technology before bed (including cell phones, television, and computers) negatively impacted both the quality and quantity of sleep for young teens. They also found “a statistically significant association” between “bedtime technology” use and weight problems. Another study published in Preventive Medicine Reports notes that technology such as cell phones increases sedentary behaviors in teens and preteens. However, they also point out that some studies are starting to find that activity trackers and cell phone apps may increase physical activity.
A potentially more troubling report published in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research adds to the growing concern of the addictive properties of cell phone usage. Researchers found that among kids in their early teens, over 31% showed signs of “mobile phone dependence,” including anxiety, withdrawal symptoms, and depression.
The one thing these studies have in common is the discovery that parental involvement and guidelines can keep cell phone use from becoming a problem. In fact, with the proper guidance, using cell phones can help our kids learn to be responsible and trustworthy. So how much is too much? When should kids have cell phones?
This seems to be a largely individual decision based on your family circumstances and your child’s maturity. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Pediatrics) reports that “there are no evidence-based age recommendations for when a child should get a phone.” At any age, though, kids do need limits. Here are some suggestions from TeenSafe and Safekids.com for putting time limits on cell phone use.
No cell phones during dinner.
Phone needs to be off between 8:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.
Never, ever text and drive (or bike, skateboard, or rollerblade).
Follow school rules with phones (some schools have a no-phone policy; others allow kids to have and use phones in class).
Answer when parents call (unless you are driving. And parents - DO NOT call your kids if you know they are behind the wheel.)
Always ask before downloading apps.
No conversations with people you don’t know in real life.
No sending pictures that you wouldn’t want grandma to see.
Parents have the right to monitor text messages, direct messages, and phone calls.
Use good phone manners (don’t talk loudly, don’t use your phone in movie theaters, don’t text and walk).
Like any tool, the good and bad is all about how you (or your kids) use it.
One great way to use your cell phone is to access information about your insurance policies with Pekin Insurance. Our mobile app is available for Android and iPhone and puts your insurance information into the palm of your hand, whenever and wherever you need it.