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Children need access to the world of technology. However, many parents are concerned about when to give their child a cellphone.

Cellphones have gone from being luxury items to modern essentials. They’ve transformed the way we communicate and perform many other functions too. A cellphone is our notebook, calendar, alarm clock, entertainment, health tracker and more.

As we prepare for smart cities of the future and allow our children access to technology for learning and communication purposes, the question most parents ask is “when is the right time to get your child a cellphone?”

The Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit organisation that helps children with learning disorders and mental health, says that usually, children between the ages of 10 to 12 will ask for a cellphone. Although this may be of concern to some parents, there are many advantages to this. Child experts say it’s not a question about the right age, but rather the rite of passage.

“I tell parents that it’s not so much about a particular age as it is about a kid’s social awareness and understanding of what the technology means,” says Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist at the institute.

Get clued-up on the health risks associated with cellphones.

Consider the following:

  • How often does your child lose things? If they misplace things constantly, it might be worth purchasing a cheaper phone.
  • How well does your child handle money?
  • How easily does your child picks up on social cues? If they are slow to catch on, this could be aggravated in texting or social media conversations.
  • How well will your child cope with limits to screentime?

Also, it is important to ensure that your child uses a cellphone responsibly and safely.

Tips and guidelines

Here are some basic tips to follow when purchasing a cellphone for a child:

  • Set guidelines: Before you give your child a phone, sit them down and explain what can and cannot be used on the device.
    It may be worthwhile drawing up a short contract, listing your and your child’s responsibilities.
  • Education on data charges: Set monthly monetary limits. You may need to educate them about what data charges are and how much it costs for games and apps.
  • Social media and strangers: If your child is under the age of 13, they should not be on social media. With messaging apps like Whatsapp, they need to be advised on the dangers of communicating with strangers and about sending pictures of themselves or their personal details to other people, even if they are known to the family.
  • Inappropriate communication: Parents should assist their children by providing guidance on what is appropriate content to send and what is not. According to author Emma Sadleir in her book Selfies, Sexts and Smartphones, thousands of people (adults and children) fall into the trap of chatting and giving out too much personal information in the online space. It is, therefore, extremely important for children to understand why they should not be communicating with strangers and why they should be very careful with the information they share online. In the book, Sadleir lists strong privacy settings and turning off location services as crucial practices.
  • Set limits on screentime: The recommended screentime for children is two hours per day. Before purchasing the device, make sure your child has agreed to follow your screentime limits.