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Sunday Mornings with Rania: To Buy or Not Buy a Teen a Phone

Rania Mankarious
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Sunday Mornings with RaniaIn this world of ever-evolving challenges, parents have many concerns with the safety of their children - their lives online being amongst the top. That said, many directly connect those concerns to cell phones but that’s not always an accurate connection. It follows then that I get asked a lot “when, if ever,” kids should get a phone. It’s a loaded topic that depends on your family; the types of conversations you have with your children; their ability to manage risks; their age, of course, but more importantly, their level of maturity; your knowledge of online issues; the parameters you will put in place and many other issues. All that said, here are some additional considerations that pertain to the safety issues (not necessarily the health issues, i.e., addiction to screen time, radiation from the device, etc.) of cell phones that I share for discussion and consideration.    

  • Cell phones in and of themselves are not exclusively the danger - it’s the apps, chat rooms, gaming platforms, and social networks that create issues. Parents remember: A child does not need a cell phone to be on any of these apps, chat rooms, gaming platforms or social media networks. Every online danger can be accessed, viewed, and used via a desktop, laptop, iPad, gaming device and more. Keeping a cell phone out of your child’s hands does not keep your child isolated from the online dangers that have us all concerned to begin with. 
  • That said, cell phones do pose unique dangers in that they follow your child everywhere she/he goes; they have maps, GPS trackers, a camera (with photos that embed locations), video capabilities as well as, of course, connectivity via calls, texts, video chats (think FaceTime) and more. This extreme level of connectivity poses huge risks and dangers and creates concerns that cannot be taken lightly. 
  • If you have decided to give your child a cell phone, you have a duty to talk about the heightened responsibility that comes with it, specifically with apps, photos, videos, texts, calls and more. Talk to kids about location and GPS tracking that’s embedded in most social media apps and allows others to follow them wherever they and their phones go; disable location services and set up parental guides; know how kids get around those guides and always check the phone; talk about the risks of accepting friend requests from those unknown; share real stories - even if scary, but share real stories in an age-appropriate manner so kids know you are not being needlessly paranoid; talk about location information embedded in photos; go through who it’s okay to call, text or video chat with and what’s okay and not okay to say or share; additional, talk about what’s okay or not okay to view - yes, “view.”  Parents remember: A child can access everything and anything on a computer or iPad but once you’ve given him/her a phone, it’s another layer of responsibility; where the phone and child go, so do all their connections.
  • So much of your decision will be based on your lifestyle, your child’s lifestyle, your neighborhood, their age, their maturity and the types of conversations and relationships you have. If you feel your child is not mature enough for these tough conversations, they are not mature enough to have a phone.

An idea: For those kids who have a group of friends, it might be helpful if the parents create a set of rules they all agree to, an “online pact” if you will, that includes what is expected online from all the friends within the group. Some examples might be:

  • As a group of friends, we all agree not to accept friend requests from strangers.
  • As families, we’ll all sit down together every two months and review who we’re all connected to online. 
  • We agree never to post compromising pictures of ourselves or others. 
  • If we see something suspicious or inappropriate, we’ll say so. 
  • We promise to exercise good digital citizenship.
  • But what about the child that is given some liberties? Maybe they go to or from school alone or stay after or go early alone for sports? This poses an interesting issue. If your child is coming and going alone, it’s important that he/she has the ability to get in touch with you and vice versa. A cell phone or smart watch are very important and allow parents to reach kids and kids to reach parents. I recommend some form of communication if you are sending your child out alone.   

At the end of the day, there’s no black and white answer, the right answer will vary by circumstance and parents alone will know what’s best for their child. We just have to make sure we’ve thought it through, had the right conversations and are taking care of each other. We do that a lot here and I’m thankful for it. 

Read past Sunday Mornings with Rania posts here. Find more information on Crime Stoppers of Houston on their website or follow them on Facebook. Have topics in mind that you’d like Rania to write about? Comment below or email her at rmankarious@crime-stoppers.org. Rania is co-host of a weekly podcast which features interesting local and national guests who used their platforms for the good of the community. Connect with Rania on Instagram and Twitter

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