It’s the season to be giving, and one of the questions on the minds of many a parent with young children is: “When is a good time to buy my child a cellphone?”
With so many unique situations and factors to consider, there is no easy answer. No two children are the same (even identical twins are different) and parents should even look closely at your own parenting style.
It’s a tough call, but understanding the pros and cons, and then balancing the consequences with the measures you can take can go a long way to help simplify your decision.
The good – it’s a tool, not a phone
The phone is used as a protective parenting device that offers peace of mind by being able to stay in touch with your child, but there’s no doubt that it can also be a great educational tool.
From as early as the age of two, children begin to learn vocabulary, alphabets and understand shapes and colours. And while it may be better to introduce them to the more tactile versions in the form of building blocks, rings, and puzzles, technology brings with it a range of features that the traditional toy does not – where, for instance, one day in the future, they will be able to create their own toys.
As a child grows, the features and apps that will provide their needs change. In a fast-paced world, they will need to adapt to building up their knowledge at a similar rate, which can only be achieved with technology itself.
Reading the news as it happens develops their analytical skills, critical thinking, and opinions. Researching a subject has never been easier. They’ll be able to build up a knowledge base of their interests, learn to know their likes faster and pursue them at a similar pace. Time is the advantage and the advantages are numerous – if the phone is used as a tool – correctly.
The bad – radiation: how real is the danger?
The debate about the health risks of cell phones and the impact it has on our bodies and brains rages on. Nevertheless, as with almost anything, physical or mental, children are affected much more than adults.
Studies have shown that because their skulls are thinner and relatively smaller, and their brain tissues more absorbent, they take in more microwave radiation (MWR) than adults. Consider that every cellphone manual warns that phones should be kept at various distances from your body to ensure radiation exposure levels are not exceeded.
Given that the technology is virtually unavoidable, what can you do to lower the health risks for your children? Teach them to make use of make use of earphones, the built-in speakerphone, or similar hands-free options that allow the phone to be a distance away from the ear.
The ugly – addiction and cybercrime
While the advantages are fantastic and your child is learning and growing through this medium, digital addiction is real, and most responsible parents will worry about the possibility of it happening to their child. Not all children will be prone, but those who do become so may suffer social isolation and miss out on life. Others may not be able to divorce social media from reality.
Arguably the biggest issue that plagues youngsters using the medium and their parents is cybercrime. Girls are more likely to be victims of cyberbullying and online predators, but exposure to inappropriate content is one of the most common internet threats that all youngsters encounter.
With maturity comes a healthier attitude, and importantly, what your own understanding and attitude towards the technology is. Are you able to lay down the rules and see them through? Can you adequately educate them with responsible behaviour around these tools? Do you practice cellphone etiquette yourself? Supervision at any age is necessary, and children need to learn that the device is just a part of their daily activities, not the only one.
This is a digital age. It seems senseless to try and keep the technology away from a child. Yet they are vulnerable with a cellphone and vulnerable without one. So what’s a good age to start them off with one?
Like with sex education, you should aim to take the mystery out of it. The earlier they are exposed to it, the less inclined they are to be curious or obsessed with it.
But in light of the possible health risks and cyber crimes your child is vulnerable to, consider starting a younger child off with a basic phone for emergencies with limited capabilities. More expensive phones are more prone to theft anyway. Once your child has proven she is ready by showing trustworthiness, responsibility, and maturity, she probably deserves that smartphone.
Ultimately, there is no straightforward answer. Take your unique situation into consideration, do your research, make the intelligent decision that will benefit you and your child, and good parenting will be a blessing worth striving for.
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Disclaimer: The information in this article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial, legal, or medical advice. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Hippo.co.za