RVA Parenting: When is the right time to give your kids a cell phone?

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Cell phones are important tools, especially in an emergency, but when is the right time to give one to your child?

Not only are they often expensive to buy, paying for data or texting could be a pretty big financial commitment as well. If you find yourself having an internal conflict about when to give your child a cell phone, and whether that child is ready, you're not alone.

"I think that's the challenge for most parents, 'How much information do I want to give my child and when?'" social media expert Marcy Williams said. "A lot of parents, they say middle school because they think their child is more responsible. They're more likely to listen and follow the rules.

Not to mention, middle school students often do more activities independently. Some even stay home alone, and you may want to give your child a way to get in touch with you during an emergency, if you don't have a landline.

"I think it just depends on your child, their level of responsibility [and] their level of understanding," Williams said. "Also, as a parent, you want to understand the risks of giving them a device too early."
Williams says middle school is a fine guideline, but doesn't have to be a hard and fast rule.

Here's what she says to look for:

  • Do they make good decisions?
  • Can they distinguish between right and wrong?
  • Are they able to react and respond appropriately?

Consider how language skills might be impacted. If your child is texting all the time, using text language or acronyms, is he or she developing good social skills for interacting with others, and with adults in a professional setting?

Williams recommends looking into parental controls, and says you should definitely know your child's passwords.
"Most carriers have parental controls, and you can get online and you can block certain apps and you have ratings," Williams explained. "You need to
understand with your provider that how far do these controls go? If you're on their network, yes they'll work. But if you're on wi-fi, do these controls still take into consideration?"
She also has a final warning for parents. Make sure you're ready to monitor your child on these devices.

That can be a time commitment, and it's a critical step, she says, to protecting your child and helping him transition to this big step safely.

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