“Can I have a cell phone?”
It’s a question that parents of 11- and 12-year-olds have become used to hearing over the last few years. For a time, we could hope to put the decision off for a few years, or at least until they turned 13. But not anymore. Through peer pressure – and perhaps some overprotective parenting – cell phone ownership among tweens has now become the norm.
Recently the question many parents are hearing has undergone a subtle change. Instead of, “Can I have a cell phone?” it’s now, “Can I have smartphone?” Suddenly a simple device that can be used for calling and texting is no longer enough. Now it has to have Web access, a camera, IM and e-mail capability, games, access to an app store, and multiple other features.
To be fair to most 11-year-olds, they aren’t looking to spend all day surfing the Web. The two big attractions of smartphones are music and games. Kids don’t see smartphones as phones anymore; they see them the way manufacturers want all of us to see them – as mini computers and media hubs. But if you are thinking of buying your youngster a smartphone, there are a few things you should consider first:
Smartphones are unfiltered Web browsers
You may be savvy enough to have placed the home computer in the living room and installed parental controls, but as soon as you hand over a smartphone, then all those controls go out the window. Most smartphones offer completely unfiltered access to the Web. Where there are parental controls, like on the iPhone, it’s a question of all or nothing. You can leave access to Safari turned on or you can turn it off completely.
Apps cost money
A lot of parents are surprised when that first smartphone bill arrives and they see a lot of line items they don’t recognize. Or, in the case of an iPhone, their iTunes account starts to see a lot more action than usual. Whether it’s The Sims 3, Doodle Jump, Wordsmith, or any one of thousands of other games, downloading apps can cost money. Add in the extra data plan and the cost of providing your youngest with a smartphone can start to add up.
Sharing is not always caring
An HD camera and the ability to instantly share pictures online is not always the safest combination in the hands of a pre-teen. The powerful e-mail and photo-sharing features call for a level of maturity that is far beyond most 12-year-olds. We have all read tragic stories of sexting and cyber bullying. Make sure your child understands that a smartphone requires smart behavior.
Smartphones are expensive to replace
Smartphones are often surprisingly delicate – they don’t respond well to being dropped in snow banks or rain puddles – and they can be expensive to repair or replace. If your child has recently lost or broken an iPod, then that’s a pretty sure sign that he or she isn’t quite ready for the big leagues.
The explosion in smartphone technology – and the race to bring competitive phones to market – has meant that content filters and other parental controls have largely taken a back seat to an array of productivity tools and apps. Although some manufacturers and service providers like Verizon are striving to plug the hole, it will be some time before parents have the same kind of child-focused safeguards on smartphones that are now widely available on PCs and Macs.
One exception is the iPhone, but as stated above, most of the iPhone controls disable features rather than filter content. If you plan on buying a smartphone and switching off the Web browsing and app download features, then you might wonder why your child needs a smartphone in the first place!
How have you or your friends handled the cell phone question from kids? Are there any other decision-making criteria you’ve heard about? We’d love to hear your comments.
I have been compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.