There are more and and more smart cell phones today, parents are facing an issue our grandparents never had to deal with. How are parents supposed to know how to navigate the uncharted territory of giving their kids such an advanced piece of technology? What rules and restrictions should be in place for kids’ phone use?
Luckily, we have experts around to guide us. Julie Smith, a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Denver, Colorado, area who specializes in adolescent development, says knowing how to navigate technology and kids is a common concern for many parents.
Cellphone pros and cons
“Too much screen time is always a concern,” Smith said. “With kids, it can interrupt sleep patterns, distract from responsibilities and reduce ‘in real life’ contact. There are also social concerns regarding cyberbullying, accessing porn and other sites or engaging with strangers.”
But that doesn’t mean giving kids their own phones is necessarily a bad idea.
“The flip side is that kids aren’t addicted to technology itself — they are hooked on the social side of it,” Smith explained. “Smartphone access can allow them to engage with their peers in different mediums that may not always be accessible at school. Basically, it helps them find their ‘tribe’ and learn more about themselves. Additionally, phone access can help kids learn problem-solving skills because they can research specific topics or seek support when they are not quite ready to speak with their parents or a caring adult.”
Smartphones, smart choices
While some parents may be tempted to restrict their kids to phones with just basic texting and calling instead of smartphones, Smith says that’s not necessarily the best route.
“While just keeping phones to the basic texting and calling seems like it simplifies the tech debate, it actually causes more stress for kids. First, many schools are having kids use their phones to access learning assignments. Because kids don’t want to be seen as the ‘kid without a phone,’ they will often just guess at that coursework or skip the assignment altogether. Also, there comes a point when not having a smartphone leaves kids feeling isolated. Ideally, we’d like to see kids appreciated by their peers just for who they are. However, that isn’t how it works in the tween and teen world. The kids who don’t have smartphones end up feeling alienated by their peers because they can’t communicate with them or they don’t understand the conversations their peers are having.”
Smith continued, “Rather than eliminating the smartphone, it’s better to help your child learn what is and isn’t appropriate on the phone.”
What it comes down to is that every kid is different, and it’s up to parents to decide exactly what is right for their individual kids, Smith said.
Finding the right limits
“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to determining how much or how little time a kid can spend on the phone,” she explained. “It depends on many factors, including age, level of maturity, emotional needs, etc. To begin to determine what is appropriate for your child, start with a conversation with your child about what when, where and how to use technology as well as when to unplug.”
As far as setting limits for phone use without sparking a kids vs. parents war in the house? Smith said the keys are staying consistent and practicing what you preach.
“Schedule a starting and stopping point not just for your child’s online connection, but yours as well. An evening check-in of devices can also help discourage late-night tech sessions. Plus it helps kids eliminate the blue screen effect that can disrupt sleep patterns,” she said. “Help kids understand the effects of multitasking. As parents, we know that helping kids stay focused will only strengthen interpersonal skills and school performance. Encourage them to minimize distractions and manage one task at a time, shutting down social media while working online for homework or engaging in a conversation.”
Smith added, “Lastly, parents must model the behavior they want. If mom and dad are asking their child to put the phone down but they aren’t able or willing to do the same, the child will rebel. More than what we say, it’s how we behave that impacts our children more.”
At the end of the day, parents know their kids best and have to make cellphone choices for every child on an individual basis. But with Smith’s advice, the murky world of kids and cellphones might be just a little bit clearer.