Advice Column, Child, Parenting, Toddler

What is the correct age to give a child a cellphone?

Larian Botha, Teacher and Parent – Southdowns College

 The modern-day child is being thrust into a rapidly expanding digital and cyber world, whether they are ready for it or not. The question that was posed to me was, “At what age should a child receive their first cell phone?”

If only it were that simple and if only society had written rules on how to govern social media and its appropriate etiquette.

Sadly, too many children and parents find themselves in a situation way over their heads when it is too late to reverse the precedent that has already been set. As parents, we should aim to be pro-active. In an ideal world, if parents could agree on unwritten regulations, then we could minimize the added cyber peer pressure that our children are experiencing.

I find myself in the advantageous position of being a parent to a tween (pre-teen) as well as a high school teacher for twenty years, teaching Life Orientation, Social Sciences and English. Thus, I have made it a priority to try to best equip myself and to empower my own children and pupils.

At the beginning of the year, I assigned a task to my grade 7 pupils to interview various age groups regarding cellphone usage. Based on their findings, they had to formulate their own cell phone etiquette policy. Their findings were astonishing. Many tweens had already encountered cyber bullying or inappropriate usage of social media. When conducting my own research amongst pupils, teachers, psychologists and parents, one thing became clear: Cellphones are unfortunately a necessary evil.

While we do not have the choice to ignore the necessity of our children having a cell phone, we should be intentional in our navigation and set our own “terms and conditions”.

When our children learn to drive, they first need a learner’s license and adult supervision. Why then, can we not create a similar platform with cell phones, before we just toss them the metaphorical keys and expect them to know how to drive?

Cell phones are intriguing and as exciting as getting your first car. The sense of independence and freedom combine to make the user want immediate access and license. However, we never grant a child a license before they learn how to drive and pass the test.

Receiving your first cell phone should be a significant rite of passage and an exciting phase in your teenager’s life. It could be likened to getting your first bicycle.  Accompanied with the thrill, is the need to learn how to ride the bicycle as well.  

Most Parents and teachers agree that thirteen is an acceptable age to receive a cell phone, provided that the child is mature enough to abide by rules set at home and at school. The determining factor should not be a matter of convenience only, whereby parents simply hand down their old phones to their children in order to satisfy a desire and keep them occupied.

Did you know that Facebook has an age restriction of 13? WhatsApp has now changed its age restriction in the European Union from 13 to 16 years of age. One can assume these age restrictions have been put in place for a good reason.

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