When to Allow Text, Data, and Applications on Your Child’s Mobile Phone

If you choose to purchase a phone for your child with texting and data capabilities, you need to decide the right time to allow access to these additional features. First, consider the additional cost of adding these features:

  • Will you pay for the additional capabilities, or will your child be expected to pitch in to the cost?

  • Will you need to pay for unlimited data? Overage charges on data plans can add up very quickly.

  • Will your child text often enough to require an unlimited texting plan? Costs per text on most plans can also add up very quickly.

Beyond added expense, expanding the capabilities of your child’s phone also brings with it added responsibility. For many tweens and teens, texting is their top form of communication, taking up a chunk of their day and requiring them to make mature decisions not only about proper use of the platform but also about boundaries.

Texting can be a wonderful tool for friends and family to stay connected. It can also, however, become invasive and addictive for children who feel they must respond to friends’ texts constantly, day and night. When evaluating whether your child is ready for texting, consider the following:

  • Does your child need access to text messages or just want it?

  • Will your child follow your family’s guidelines regarding number of texts allowed and time periods when texting is permitted?

  • Is your child mature enough to understand appropriate use of texting, such as what information is appropriate to share and what constitutes bullying?

Kids learn from watching their parents’ behavior. Model the texting boundaries that you want your children to follow.

Remind your kids that the rules for appropriate mobile phone use extend beyond your family to include school and after school jobs and activities.

Unlike feature phones, it’s difficult to make a case that a child requires a smartphone with a data plan. However, there is no denying the convenience of a smartphone with a data plan as well as the entertainment value of a smartphone with access to an endless assortment of games and applications.

Many parents provide their children with access to apps through their own phones, but allowing your children to own their own smartphone is an additional level of access to the Internet and all that it has to offer, both good and bad.

Before deciding to add a data plan to your child’s smartphone, consider the following questions:

  • Will your child understand and follow limits for potentially expensive data usage?

  • Will your child feel comfortable coming to you if she is accidentally exposed to inappropriate content or receives inappropriate contact?

  • Is your child mature enough to understand how to use a smartphone safely?

  • Are you ready for the added responsibility of monitoring your child’s increased access to the Internet?

  • Do you feel comfortable using parental controls to help protect your child from inappropriate content or overuse?

  • Do the positives (such as a chance to learn responsibility and increased connectivity) outweigh the potential negatives (such as added cost and additional screen time)?

The average age when a child receives their first mobile phone is around the beginning of middle school.

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