Thursday, February 22, 2018
Parenting & Relationships

When is the right age to get a child a cellphone

My daughter and I constantly fight the process of growing up. She tries to speed it up, I try to slow it down.

Last week she got dressed for a family dinner with her grandparents and cousins and she put on jean shorts and a sweatshirt, similar to an outfit her 14-year-old cousin would wear. To top it off she added a play cellphone to her back pocket before walking out.

It got me to thinking. When is the right age to get a child a cellphone? I'm going to go right ahead and say that I'm not ready to get my daughter a phone. She's only 6 and she's not out of my sight long enough to really need one. But, the time is coming, I'm sure.

Sprint recently put out a new, easy-to-use phone called the WeGo aimed at 5- to 12-year-olds. It's not a smartphone. There aren't games or text options, but there are some cool safety features. There is only one button on the front, used to call a contact that has already been programed into the phone.

There is also a ring on a string that can be pulled in case of emergency, sounding an alarm and sending an emergency text.

I think 5 is way too young for a phone, and I doubt middle school kids are going to want this particular phone when their friends are all getting the latest iPhone, but for kids around 8 or 9 it may be a smart idea.

The nice thing though about this one, in addition to the safety features, is that it allows kids to get in touch with parents, but doesn't teach them to be attached to all the bells and whistles of the smartphone.

And if I'm being totally honest, my daughter sees enough of that at home. It's not only her cousin she's emulating when she sticks that play phone in her back pocket, it's me and my husband, too.

I've talked to some of my friends about when to buy a phone, and they don't seem to be in any hurry either. Late elementary or middle school seems to be average, and that sounds about right to me, too.

Most of my friends say that as kids grow more independent — riding the bus to school or participating in after-school activities by themselves — they like them to have a phone to stay in touch.

For some reason, age 11 is always the magic year for us. When can I get my ears pierced? When you're 11. When can I stay home by myself? Eleven. When can I go on my first date? Twenty-five.

That one's a little further off.

For now, I don't think a 6-year-old or even a 7- or 8-year-old needs her own phone, but 11 sounds about right. There is so much time ahead that these kids will be attached to gadgets. I'm enjoying the time now when they look each other in the eye, not at the phone, and yell across the street to their friends instead of texting.

I guess we'll have to wait and see what our lives are like in the next few years. As my daughter is away from us more often, maybe we'll get her a cellphone sooner than we thought.

And though I do like the idea of the WeGo phone, my husband is an admitted tech fiend and likes buying the newest gadgets. If she's smart, our daughter will ask him instead of me.

Elizabeth Freid Vocke is a married mother of one who lives in South Tampa.

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