Three Questions to Ask Before Getting a Middle Schooler a Smart Phone

Jul 29, 2016

school

My daughter is entering the 8th grade at a new school and my husband and I are deciding whether or not it’s time to give her a smart phone of her own. Of course she wants one, but the real question for us is, does she need one?

With all the flexible plans and multi-phone discounts available today, it may be easy and affordable to add a smart phone line for our child. However, there are some important issues we need to consider before making this decision.

Here are some key questions to ask yourself before buying your middle schooler a smart phone:

  • Is it worth the added expense?
    If you already have an unlimited phone plan, this may not be as big a problem. Even so, you must consider how frequently your child may access high bandwidth data, like YouTube videos, while using his phone. You may also want additional phone insurance to protect the device should your child damage, misplace or lose it.
  • Is your child responsible enough?
    His ability to follow rules will greatly impact whether or not you can trust your child with a phone. He needs to understand how to take care of his phone, how to keep it charged, that he can’t lend it to anyone, how to respect the privacy of others online, etc. Is your child mature enough to keep out of trouble with his phone?
  • Does the school allow phones on campus?
    Some schools don’t allow them so be sure you ask that question before making a purchase. In addition, you’ll have to be aware of the school’s technology policies and make sure your child can abide by those regulations.

Once you’ve gotten through the key questions, you now need to consider the pros and cons of placing that phone into your child’s hands on a regular basis. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of giving your middle schooler a smart phone:

Advantages

  • Safety Advantages
    A phone can be a great safety device in case a child gets lost, stranded or hurt. Be sure to program it with your personal phone numbers as well as those of trusted adults who can keep him safe, 911, emergency contacts and teachers/aides if he uses the phone at school and extracurricular activities.
  • Connecting With Friends
    Some children have a difficult time making and connecting with friends and don’t yet have access to email or understand it well. (My daughter never uses hers.) Most kids, however, know can use a phone early on. A smart phone can help your middle schooler to stay in touch with friends outside of school. That makes friendships easier if many of his peers also have phones - and he won’t feel left out!
  • Skill Building
    Providing your child a phone is a great way to start teaching him proper social skills, like when it’s inappropriate to use a phone, when it’s ok to take photos, how to ask permission before sharing images, etc. In addition a smart phone can help him research something he doesn’t understand, access the day’s weather or navigate somewhere.
  • Flexible Safety Tools
    Today, there are lots of tools to safeguard your child’s smart phone. From safety blocking tools to phone tracking, you can set up the phone to meet your child’s needs and keep him safe from everything else. Or, you can purchase a phone with limited capabilities, such as one that can only call certain phone numbers. It’s up to you to take the initiative to select the right device and program it properly.

Disadvantages

  • Too Much Screen Time
    When your child has access to a phone all day, you can expect a significant increase in their screen time. The only thing you can do is set rules and tools to limit his exposure and teach him when to turn it off. Even Steve Jobs limited his children’s time on the phone, setting rules such as no technology at the dinner table. I use this rule at our house too – no phones or tablets while eating any meal!
  • Exposure To Danger
    Internet strangers, exposure to pornography and cyberbullying are topics you may not be ready to deal with but they will threaten your child if you are not careful. It is essential you teach your child - the in’s and out’s of phone safety, the dangers of bullying and decide whether or not your child is mature enough for social media.
  • Distraction
    At school, places of worship or events like sporting meets or live shows, the phone can take your child’s attention off where it needs to be. Even if you block games or online access, he can still become engrossed in photos, calls or other apps you wouldn’t necessarily think much about. If you think having a phone in his pocket will easily distract your child, he may not be ready for a smartphone.
  • Vulnerability to Security Issues
    As the parent, you are fully responsible for handing that phone to your child. Be aware of security issues that can plague his phone, like viruses and hacks, credit cards in memory and apps that are not updated that are therefore vulnerable. While you should teach your child these responsibilities, you need to be responsible for those things while he’s learning.

While we make our decision about a phone for our daughter, we are most intrigued by the safety aspect of giving her a phone. She has learning disabilities and this year she integrates in a new – and much larger – public school.

A phone can provide her an easy way to keep in touch with her team if she gets lost in the school or wanders off campus. It will be a big boon to her making friends as well as improving her phone skills. We still have more to consider but I think it’s the right time to give our middle schooler a smart phone of her own.