By DR. FRED HALL, LPC
QUESTION: My sixth-grade daughter wants a cell phone. How young is too young?
Hi, reader, and thanks for such a timely and poignant question. Cell phones are wonders and have the capability of keeping folks in touch with each other, as well as entertainment and productivity. These are all wonderful tools that we have come to know and love. Social media is also one of our favorites. In the hands of a responsible adult, it is a great way to follow, like, and view what’s happening in the inner circle of your family and friends. In the hands of teens and pre-teens, it has the potential to be a devasting fire in the realms of emotional, relational and psycho-social well-being.
Too often parents want their children to have all the luxuries available but fail to monitor and evaluate the readiness of their child. The phone itself may not be harmful, but access to the internet with unmonitored viewing can certainly expose the child to harmful sites, people and concepts that the parent does not want or even know about. Many students in elementary, middle and high school with cell phones spend an average of six hours per day viewing content and interacting in conversation with others, and with programming that may be questionable. This is also done during late-night hours, which prevents the child from getting proper rest and sleep, thus affecting mood, academics and family relations.
Realistically, a child under 12 may not be ready for all the dynamics of having a cell phone. The exception to that could be if parents have monitors on the child’s phone, set up notifications of what the child is viewing, take the phone away at night, and discuss what safe viewing and social media really entails. With these safeguards in mind, the child is more likely to get in and out of websites and social media without damage. If these safeguards are not implemented, discussed, and reinforced periodically, the potential for damage and harm rises dramatically.
Put off cell phone buying as long as you can. When you believe your child to be mature enough to handle it, discuss and set up boundaries in advance so as not to have any surprises with the child’s adherence. Involved parents are engaged parents, and engaged parents are informed parents. This will go a long way in making sure the phone and other media devices are used in the manner in which they were meant.
Dr. Fred Hall is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), supervisor, life and leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, couples, families and organizations in training, speaking, consulting and clinical practice. He does clinical work at Cornerstone Counseling in Jackson.