When I was young, I was not allowed to use the home phone without my parent’s permission, and needed to have a concrete and important reason for making that call. In my teenage years, my parents relaxed that rule a little, and I was able to call up my friends to chat now and then. But it was only after secondary school that I got my first pager, and only in university that I finally had my own mobile phone, a Nokia 6610.
It’s not uncommon for young children to master the swipe functions of smart phones by the time they go to nursery, often before they learn to read and write. These days, children from as young as Primary 1 are owners of brand new iPhones. Your child may have come home from school with the urgent declaration that “Mummy, so-and-so has a new phone! It’s so cool! And he let me play the game on the bus on the way home. Can I have a phone too?”
Here are some factors to consider before you buy your child his first phone.
1. It doesn’t need to be expensive
New and flashier phone models are constantly churned out, month after month. And of course, your child would want the latest phone on the market, just like you hanker after the recently launched iPhone 6S. But trust needs to be earned and taking responsibility is a long and arduous process, so why give your kids the best when you should, practically speaking, expect the worst? By worst, we means things like cracked screens and lost phones.
Instead of pampering your child with the latest gadget, stick to something a little simpler for a start. It might be more prudent and wise to offer your child a basic mobile phone to begin with, purely for texting and making phone calls, and without paying for Internet use. Later on, when she has proved her ability to use her phone responsibly, you may upgrade her mobile plan or phone accordingly.
2. It’s an issue of trust
Like we said, trust needs to be earned. Discuss the ground rules for your family’s gadget use with your spouse. As with most other matters, daddy and mummy set the precedent – if the rule is no phones at the dinner table, that includes you. Before you give your child his or her phone, sit down and have a clear explanation of the rules and reasons for them. You will also need to be consistent in enforcing these rules.
Examples of guidelines you can consider are:
- When can they use their phones – e.g not during school hours, only when the house phone is being used, not at the dinner table, etc.
- What time the phones need to be put at the charging dock for the night – e.g after 8pm.
- And if they have access to the Internet, what kind of Apps they can download, and how long they can spend on such games or online.
3. Are you ready?
As parents, like it or not, we need to stay ahead of the game. Make it your responsibility to find out what kinds of social media most kids are using these days. You might be surprised to find out that most children and youths don’t bother with Facebook anymore, preferring platforms like Snapchat or Twitter.
We recognize that the digital age is here to stay, and that sooner or later, our children will have a phone. However, with the rise of technology comes need for us to ensure our children know how to relate in this social sphere, understanding boundaries and being wise in the things they choose to say, post or send. Parents need to keep open channels of communication with their children about many things, and social media usage is definitely one of them.
Dr Lim Sun Sun, Associate Professor of the Department of Communications and New Media in NUS shares, “You hold the key to building your child’s defences against perspectives that contradict the beliefs that you subscribe to, and that you want your children to subscribe to… Rather than obliterate all opinions that you consider deleterious, embrace each alternative view as an opportunity to rationalise to your child why you disagree with it. Foster a relationship of mutual respect and understanding where your child knows that she can turn to you when she encounters messages that are confusing or upsetting.”
Attend talks on cyber wellness to understand the dangers of gadget use, and install any parenting controls that you deem necessary on your child’s phone before giving it to him or her. A good app to download is called TimeAway, which allows parents to monitor and control device usage and app downloads remotely, by setting time limits and blocking questionable apps.
4. It’s not really a need
Sure, your child has informed you that 80% of his classmates have it, but that doesn’t make it a necessity. Yes, it will come in handy if he needs to contact you in an emergency or settle project work with a friend, but he’s been managing that thus far without a phone, hasn’t he?
Look at your current realities to determine how essential it really is to get your child a phone. Now, you might argue that very few people, adults included, really “need” a phone, and yet many of us own one. It’s not about only getting a phone when there’s a vital need, but about recognizing and highlighting to your child that no, it’s not really a “need”.
It’s a privilege and a responsibility.
At what age would you allow your child to have his or her own phone and why? Share your thoughts with us in our comments below!
By Dorothea Chow