Now that parents all over the country are in full back-to-school mode, children all over the country are likely as not pestering them for their very first smartphone. What time is the right time to say yes?
First, the bad news. Navigating the Internet can be a lot like touring a big city, and as long as you stay near the main thoroughfares, behave politely, and don’t talk to strangers, it can be a pretty rewarding experience. The difference for children is that when it comes to the Internet, before you actually go to a particular place it’s hard to know whether it’s Madison Avenue or Skid Row. When we throw in the facts that (a) some kids, particularly teenagers, will get a rebellious thrill out of visiting places like Skid Row on purpose, and (b) parents can reasonably expect their kids to become more tech-savvy than they are, the natural reaction is to keep kids away from smartphones with a whip and a chair.
On the other hand, there are a great many advantages to equipping your child with a smartphone. As we all learned recently with the NSA revelations, every smartphone is a tracking device, so parents can always know where their children are and, just as importantly, can always get a hold of them. (For more information, check out these child-tracking apps compiled by Mashable.) Smartphones also provide children with immediate access to emergency services, and if parents are concerned about what their kids are up to on their phones, they should check out some of these parental control apps from PC Mag.
Still, parents need to sit down with their kids and discuss the privileges, responsibilities, and boundaries that come with having a cell phone. Kids need to know that the photos they take with their cell phones include both the time and the location those photos were taken. Older kids need to realize that “sexting” can land them either in jail, on a sex offender registry, or both. And perhaps most importantly, the dangers of texting while driving, or riding with someone who does, can come with incalculably tragic costs.
So parents, do what you do: do your research, plan a family meeting, and make sure your children understand the stakes.