We are all, at some point faced with the dilemma of when to get a phone for our child. This decision requires us to examine many factors and cannot be an impulsive decision.
Screens have both physiological and psychological impacts. When there is no control, it affects sleep , memory and attention span . There is a lot of research being done on the impact phones on our bodies and minds- wifi , screen addiction , phone radiation, heat and many other aspects of using phones .
In this article, let us explore some points to consider before deciding to get our child a phone
This is the first and most important question. Reflecting on the questions below help to have an idea of your child help to make an informed decision
What is the age of your child ? Science tells us that the child’s decision making and self regulation skills are not fully developed till the mid twenties. Phones provide high doses of dopamine which makes it very hard for a young brain to stick to rules and timings. As far as possible it is advised to postpone getting a phone for the child if the same tasks can be performed by a computer at home .
Do you observe your child is able to take responsibility for their work? What do you feel about the decisions they are making in how to use their time?
Are they able to keep the rules of television in the house? Television is not as interactive and addictive as the phone, hence it is a good way to gauge whether the child is able to show self restraint or needs our help to develop the skill.
How is your connection with your child? Are you both able to problem solve and arrive at solutions when conflicting opinions arise? Dr Weinberger who authored the book ‘Smartphone and Internet safety book' states that 36% of arguments between parents and children are over the use of smartphones.
Do you want to give your child a phone so that you can be in touch and ensure their safety?
It would be good to explore why your child wants a phone- for music , games , keeping in touch with friends, social media ,quick access to information or to be a part of the peer group?
As parents let us respect that children may find some things very important though we may see it as unnecessary. Many conversations are needed to arrive at what parent and child are both comfortable with regarding what the phone is going to be used for.
Once we have explored the Why and we are clear on the Who , we can then decide the What
Basic phone as a starter phone works well for a young child and a child who needs it for safety purposes only.
If a computer, music system etc can perform the same task it would be preferable to encourage these gadgets . Phones are much harder to monitor as its small and easier to take into rooms and to bed.
Just like we let go of physical support for our children we need to slowly let go of our digital support. We cannot expect the child to be fully aware of how to navigate their digital time. Start with a designated time that you arrive at together and slowly allow the child more freedom as they become more aware.
It would also help them to rely on apps that track screen hours instead of you having to remind them often.
Share with your children why they are getting the phone and discuss the pitfalls along with the benefits. It is important that they are aware of the impacts of their digital footprint.When giving a phone it is important for a child to also be educated on privacy settings on social media, on the presence of sexual predators on gaming and chat sites. This information equips them make better judgments rather than being kept in the dark.
Discuss and create a contract . Some aspects you might discuss : the use of the phone time, amount of data, who they can speak to , Apps that are allowed , where can the phone be taken ?( School? trips?), when will the phone be switched off at night? Where will it be then kept? Will the password created be shared? Would their tracker be kept on at all times ?
These are just broad guidelines to help create your own depending on the age and the need of the child. Keep revising your family digital guidelines as and when necessary.
Remember that it is hard to take away a liberty once it has been given. Evaluate the need for a phone before you give your child one.
Author: Rama Venkataraman is a member of Parenting Matters, an organisation that promotes parents to build deeper connection within families.