There’s a poll going on at MakeUseOf asking at what age a kid should have a smartphone.
My opinion? As early as possible – but with specific restrictions, and I’ll list those in a moment.
I see a kid (as in under the age of 18) having a smartphone the same as when I was a kid and I asked my father for my own phone line for BBSing (and later internet). Rules were laid down and I knew not to make any long-distance calls else I would have had the phone line yanked.
I personally don’t consider it a good idea to block a child from having technology. It is better for them to learn the tech really early so they’re up to speed on it later in life. Yes, they will make mistakes. Yes, they will physically break the tech as many kids have a nasty habit of destroying pretty much everything they touch. But I would file all that under "costs of parenting" – and it’s a worthy expense.
Rule 1: No contract-based wireless plans. Ever.
A child with no job doesn’t really understand money, but they do understand basic numbers. If a kid on a no-contract phone/tablet piles through all their minutes only after 10 days into a month when they were supposed to make it last 30, the parent has to lay down the rule and say, "Sorry! You used up all your minutes and will have to wait until next month."
Yes, there will be begging and screaming and so on so the kid can start using his phone again, but they have to learn how to use their phone reasonably. And the only way to really do that is to let them purposely use up all their minutes and endure the "pain" of having no connectivity.
Rule 2: No ability to buy paid apps. Ever.
A child if given the opportunity will go into the app store for whatever phone they have and just grab everything if someone else (you) is paying for it, so the phone must have a restriction in place to block the installation of any paid apps. If the kid wants one, he’ll have to ask you first, and that’s fine because as long as you know what’s being spent in advance, that’s fine.
Rule 3: Let the kid break the phone.
The child is going to break his phone; it will happen. Let it happen. Whether it’s by physical breakage or some "mod" the kid did to hack the phone (probably to install paid apps for free illegally), just let nature take its course there. When it happens, don’t get mad – but don’t let the kid lie to you either. If you get the excuse of "The phone just stopped working and I don’t know why…?" Oh, you’ll probably know why very quickly once you inspect the phone. Make sure your kid is honest if he tried to hack the phone and screwed it all up. Honesty is the best policy here.
Rule 4: No international calling or texting
It’s easy enough to set up no-international-anything on any smartphone, so do it. If you don’t, little Johnny will be texting Australia a lot (no offense intended to Australians, but it costs a good coin to call or text you from the US on a phone). If the child complains about this, just tell them to use email or Windows Live Messenger instead. The kid will hate that, but deal with it, because international texting fees can rack up in a very short period of time. It’s most likely true your kid is a gamer anyway, so they already have a Windows Live account for their Xbox which they can use for instant messaging and Hotmail – for free.
Rule 5: Explain to them in detail not to do stupid things with their phone
This has nothing to do with the phone itself but rather what one does with the phone. Explain to the child not to be a bully. Explain to him not go into the school bathroom, take a photo of their bare butt and then send it to friends (as that can easily lead to a sex offender charge that will last several years). Explain how much trouble they can get into with the cops if they text the wrong things.
A kid when given a smartphone may quickly learn the technical ins and outs of the device, but has basically zero knowledge concerning people skills. The parent has to let the child know in advance what kind of trouble can happen, because the kid doesn’t know anything otherwise. Will the child heed all your advice? Of course not, and they will still manage to screw things up – but it is better to sit down with the kid and explain things to him so at least he has a foundation to make judgment calls concerning what’s right and wrong on his own concerning smartphone communications.
The worst thing a parent could do concerning a smartphone is just give the kid the device and say "be good with it". That’s not enough. Things have to be explained and rules have to be laid down. If not, bad things can happen quickly.
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