The winter gift giving season is almost upon us, and all across Austin and beyond, kids are asking their parents, “Can I have a phone for (insert your holiday here)?”
SellCell.com did a survey in July of 1,135 parents in the United States with children between the ages of 4 and 14.
Here’s what these parents told them:
12 percent of kids have used a cellphone by age 2.
40 percent of kids younger than 6 have used a cellphone.
40 percent of kids have their own phone by age 10.
65 percent of kids own a phone before age 13.
42 percent of kids spend more than 30 hours a week on their phones.
40 percent of parents admit to using the phone to keep kids busy and give themselves quiet time.
57 percent of kids mainly use their phones for gaming, and only 18 percent used it to complete homework.
68 percent of parents think that cellphones have a positive effect on a child’s development.
88 percent of parents know the passcode to their child’s phones.
How do you know when your child is ready for a cellphone of their own?
We asked Dr. Elizabeth Knapp, co-chief of pediatrics at Austin Regional Clinic, and Brooke Shannon, executive director and founder of Wait Until 8th, an Austin-based organization that encourages parents and kids to take a pledge to wait until eighth grade before giving kids their first phone.
Wait Until 8th started a few years ago when Shannon’s oldest daughter was in third grade and started to ask for a phone. “I felt it was too young,” she says. When she was driving by her local middle school, she noticed that all the kids were pulling out their phones. “No one was talking to each other,” she says.
When she emailed 20 or so moms she knew, many of them told her they wanted to wait as long as possible.
Shannon did a lot of research and found that experts would say the time for a phone would be between 12 and 16, which is how she landed on 14 (or eighth grade).
What started as a grassroots thing has now had 22,000 people from every state sign the Wait Until 8th pledge.
She says that when Wait Until 8th started, everyone was being given a cellphone for their fifth-grade graduation. Now, she says, at least in her community, “I think that has changed.”
Shannon’s answer to people who say, “But my child needs to be able to get in touch with me,” is that there are phones everywhere that their child can use. “If my child needs me, they can get me,” she says.
Wait Until 8th isn’t about delaying the use of all phones, and Shannon understands that in households that are divided by divorce, a phone might be necessary, but it doesn’t have to be a smartphone.
She says more companies are starting to offer basic phones again for this purpose.
The fear about smartphones is the access to the internet and the access to a camera. That comes with a lot of responsibility and legality about proper use of those technologies.
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Both Shannon and Knapp say when to give your child a cellphone is not about a certain age. Knowing whether your child is ready for a cellphone and whether you are ready to give it to them is about the kind of conversations you have had as a family.
You have to be ready to talk about the dangers that lurk there, Knapp says. Parents have to be ready to set up parameters about what kids need to click off of if they see it.
“If you see a naked body, is that OK? If you see violence against other people, is that OK?” Knapp says parents should ask their children.
“It opens up a Pandora’s box about viewing,” she says.
She says that often families are starting to ask her about phones when their kids are in second or third grade, but there are a lot of conversations that they have yet to have as a family. What she’s noticed is that parents are giving kids phones before they’ve had a talk about sex. And if they haven’t talked about sex, they also haven’t talked about porn or many other things kids can access through their phones.
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Knapp says that parents who are thinking about giving a child a cellphone need to establish rules around phone usage, such as making sure they are still having in-person conversations and relationships rather than just virtual ones.
She also suggests establishing rules about phones and bedtime and taking phones out of the bedroom an hour before bedtime to make sure their child’s sleep is not interrupted by the friend whose parent didn’t take the phone away and is texting or Snapchatting all night long.
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Missing just 30 to 60 minutes of sleep affects your moods and your ability to form healthy relationships, she says.
Parents also need to think about whether their child is responsible with their stuff. A phone can be a $500 to $1,000 item. If your kid is having trouble keeping up with their school binders, how will they do with a phone?
They should talk to their kids about their friendships and how they talk to their friends, both in person and by text. And they need to make sure that friends who don’t have phones yet don’t get left out.
Some parents might be thinking that surely there’s a way to block all the bad stuff and bad behavior, or that as long as we choose the right apps, nothing inappropriate or dangerous will happen.
“Every app could be misused,” Knapp says. “It has to be a conversation about what we do as a family, what we value.”
RELATED: Educate, don’t monitor, when it comes to kids’ cellphone use
Kids need those rules that parents set. If a kid isn’t good at following the rules, that can also be a sign that that kid isn’t ready to be given a phone yet.
Common Sense Media has these questions parents should ask their kids:
Why do you want a cellphone?
Do you understand the rules of your family and of school for cellphone use?
What are some concerns you think your family and teacher have about your phone?
What are five places where it’s not OK to use your phone?
Knapp says there are some things that are good about kids having phones, such as having answers to questions in the palm of their hand. If they have an interest, they can really explore it through their phone. It’s also great for creativity.