Cell Phones and Kids Part 1

Cell Phones and Kids Part 1


Should your child have a cell phone?

The following article is the first of three parts from Technology Safety Through the Eyes of Faith, www.faithandsafety.org, a resource guide brought to you by a collaboration between the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and an attempt to give you some simple, straightforward advice and tools on how to navigate this digital world with your family.

In Brief

When and if a child should get a cell phone is ultimately a parental decision. Kids want cell phones for games and social communication. Parents want their kids to have a cell phone for safety. When you give your child a cell phone, you are giving them a portable computer with mobile Internet capability. Know a phone’s features and capabilities before you purchase. It’s important to discuss issues of privacy, inappropriate texts/photos, and safety. For parents wanting extra safety features, there are special phones designed just for kids.

Just about everyone in America has a cell phone

It’s a fact: just about everyone in America has a cell phone. There are now more activated cell phones than there are people in the United States.[1] Kids are no exception. The average age for a kids’ first cell phone is just over 11 years old.[2] 77% of kids ages 12-17 have a cell phone.[3] Cell phones are the primary form of communication for teens; and they send more texts in a month than they do phone calls.[4] With statistics like that, cell phones need to be a primary focus for safety.

Why do kids want a cell phone?

Try Googling the question, “Why do kids want a cell phone?” Guess what? You won’t find the answer! Instead, you’ll be presented with countless sites giving you advice on whether or not your child needs a cell phone. That’s not the same thing!

For younger kids, cell phones are cool. Older kids have them and cell phones are a gateway to get cool games, movies, and music. For older kids, much of their social world now exists through digital communications. Talking, texting, IM, email, video messages, and social media are all part of this reality. This is how their friends are communicating. Your kids will want to be part of that social circle too. It’s critically important that you understand this dynamic. The point here is simple: the reasons why your child wants a cell phone are probably not the same reasons why you want to give them a cell phone. Don’t avoid this communication gap. Talk about it with your kids so that you can both understand each other better and communicate your mutual expectations. A common way to communicate expectations is through a “Responsible Cell Phone Use” contract. There are many available online. If you feel a contract is right for your family, then we recommend this contract from the CTIA and ConnectSafely as a starting point: www.connectsafely.org/family-contract-smartphone-use/

Cell Phone Safety Topics to Discuss with your Kids

Giving a kid a cell phone can open up a host of additional behaviors because today’s phones allow you to do so many different things. Before you give your child a cell phone, it’s important to discuss the following topics with your kids, assuming they are of appropriate age:

  • Distracted driving: Distracted driving can be deadly. Kids should understand that texting, answering email, surfing the web, or any other cell-phone activity can cause a deadly accident. If they need to use a cell phone, teach them to pull over.
  • Cheating: Cheating in class isn’t just copying and passing notes any more. Cell phones are used to cheat in school. Openly talk to your kids about the ethics of cheating and the temptation a cell phone could present.
  • Sexting: Sexting is sending a sexually explicit text, photo, or video via text messaging. Sexted photos or videos are frequently shared and don’t stay solely with the intended recipient. A kid’s reputation can be damaged for life. Peer pressure can lead a kid to sexting. Talk to kids about the dangers of sexting, peer pressure and immediately reporting any sexting.
  • Cyberbullying: Cyberbulling is bullying with electronic media—cell phones included. Kids can be both victims and bullies. Talk to kids about what to do if they are bullied and remind them not to bully others.
  • Geolocation: Geolocation uses your cell phone to determine your exact location in real-time. Approximately 18% of adult cell phone users use geosocial services to “check-in” to places.[5] Children thirteen and under should never use geolocation services to reveal their current location. Teach kids about appropriate and inappropriate uses of these services and how they can invite predators and compromise your family’s safety and security.

[1] http://www.ctia.org/media/industry_info/index.cfm/AID/10323 Current CTIA statistics
[2] http://www.smartphoneparenting.com/survey.html July 2011 Parenting.com and Verizon Wireless survey
[3] Pew Internet & American Life Project report, Teens, Smartphones & Texting.
[4] http://pewInternet.org/Reports/2010/Teens-and-Mobile-Phones.aspx Pew Internet & American Life Project report, Teens and Mobile Phones
[5] http://www.pewInternet.org/Reports/2012/Location-based-services.aspx Pew Internet & American Life report, Three-quarters of smartphone owners use location-based services.

SOURCE  Cell Phones and Kids


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