At some point, most of us decide that our kids are ready
for a phone -- so they can call when they get off the bus, need a ride, or just
check in. That's when you discover that it's nearly impossible to find a phone
with only the features you need -- namely, the ability to receive and make
Most phones -- even basic models -- are tiny handheld
computers, with features that put a lot of power in little hands. Kids can take
photos, text, access the Internet, watch YouTube, play games, download music
... and even make calls.
Cell phones give kids access to the world in ways that
you can't predict. A little advanced preparation, including rules, guidance,
and expectations, can go a long way toward protecting your kids.
What's the right age to get my kid a cell phone?
Age isn't as important as responsibility and maturity. If
your kid can demonstrate both -- by checking in with you at appointed times,
following your rules, adhering to school guidelines, and handling the phone
sensibly -- then he or she may be ready. Here are a few questions to help you
Do your children need to be in touch for safety reasons?
Would having easy access to friends benefit them for
Can they adhere to limits you set for minutes talked and
Will they use the text, photo, and video functions
responsibly and not to embarrass or harass others?
Can I "just say no" to cell phones?
It's not a tragedy to be the only kid at school without a
phone. But there are very few public phones anymore. If there's an emergency
and you need to reach your kid, you'll be kicking yourself for not having
gotten him one. Maybe you just don't want to buy into a tech-obsessed,
always-connected culture. You can still pass along your values by modeling the
tech habits you want your kids to pick up -- without missing that emergency
What are the basic safety rules for cell phones?
Basic safety skills are essential for kids' safety and
privacy. Here are the areas kids will need to be responsible for, plus some
Be respectful -- both to the people you're texting with
and those around you.
Be careful. Assume that even "private" texts
can become public.
Verify the caller or texter. Don't respond to numbers you
Answer the phone when it's Mom or Dad. Make sure your kid
knows to answer when it's YOU calling!
Ask permission. Before you snap someone's picture, take a
video, or forward something, ask if it's OK.
Don't publicly embarrass people. Don't post someone's
photo -- especially unflattering ones -- from your cell phone without
Apps and downloads:
Manage costs. Make sure your kids understand that they're
spending real money when they download apps, games, and music.
Use filters. Check your phone for parental controls that
let you filter out age-inappropriate content, restrict downloads, and prevent
Be selective -- not impulsive. Make sure kids know to be
very selective about what they post from their cell phone.
Be safe. Explain why they shouldn't use location
What should I do if someone "sexts" my kid?
This can happen -- even accidentally! Tell your kid to
delete the photo and block the number. And if someone asks your kids to send
them a "sext," make sure your kids say no and tells you if they're
My kid's friend texted an embarrassing photo of her to
friends. What should I do?
She learned the hard way that kids can use cell phones to
humiliate others by forwarding texts, photos, and other things that were
thought to be private. First, explain that this is a form of cyberbullying.
Next, talk to the other kid's parents -- and show them the evidence. Don't
accuse -- but do make sure that you're all on the same page about what's
appropriate behavior. Make sure your kids don't retaliate, but do make sure
they're standing up for themselves and have supportive friends who will also
stand up to bullies. Also consider discussing the matter with your kid's school
-- the bully may actually be acting out due to other problems.
Is there anything I can do about the spam my kid's phone
Cell phone spam (unsolicited bulk messages) is a growing
problem -- and if kids click on these ads, they may be unwittingly giving away
information or opting into a service. Call your cell phone company to report the
problem; they may ask you to forward the spam to a specific number. Then, block
the caller, either by using your phone's settings or going through your
Should I buy parental controls from my wireless carrier?
There are pros and cons to purchasing these services,
which let you do everything from filtering inappropriate content to blocking
phone purchases to locating your kid on a map. The main "con" is
cost. Some of these features can be expensive, and you may be able to find
cheaper alternatives through the phone's built-in settings or through
third-party apps. But on the "pro" side is need. While we like to
think our kids will be completely responsible, some kids will resist your
rules. If your kid is risking safety, privacy, and money, it might be worth
looking into these services.
Are smartphones OK for kids?
Kids love smartphones. And why not? They can play games,
access the Internet, video chat -- and do lots of other advanced activities. If
you're going to spring for a smartphone, get one that allows you to turn off
features you don't want your kids using (like the ability to purchase apps) and
keep the ones that you're OK with (like texting).
How do I keep tabs on my kids' cell phone use without
Some parents say, "If I'm paying for it, I'm
entitled to read my kids' texts, check their call log, and know who their
buddies are." That's valid, but kids consider these devices to be as
personal as diaries, so tread cautiously. Spot checks are a good idea. You know
your kid best. If you sense something isn't right, spot check more often.
Explain that your rules are for their safety and protection and that you need
to be able to make sure they're using their devices appropriately.
My kid seems addicted to her phone. What do I do?
Experts have compared cell-phone dependency to gambling.
Every text, email, and update is like a "hit" you begin to crave.
Hopefully, you're just dealing with a compulsive habit that you can manage by
structuring your kids' time. Schedule time for the phone to be on and off,
schedule activities where the cell phone can't be used, and look into programs
that block the phone from being used. If you suspect the problem is true
addiction, talk to your pediatrician.