What’s the right age for a cell phone? For Facebook? For an e-mail address?
When I am asked these questions, I usually say there is no one-size-fits-all answer – it depends on the maturity of the child and what each device or service is going to be used for. However, there is no doubt that the average age of technology adoption is getting younger each year. Just a few years ago it was almost unheard of for a 4th grader to have a cell phone; nowadays it’s commonplace.
Even though there are no right answers, there are still some guidelines that can help parents make decisions they can be comfortable with. Here are a few suggestions:
That first cell phone
Opinions here vary dramatically. Some parents see nothing wrong in providing cell phones to 10-year-olds, while others say their kids can have cell phones only when they can afford to pay for them. My own view is that parents need to ask themselves two basic questions: Does my child need a cell phone? and Is my child responsible enough to look after it? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then maybe it’s time to take the plunge.
In the first question, the word “need” shouldn’t be confused with “want”. Lots of 10-year-olds want a cell phone but very few need one. Whether parents go ahead and indulge the “wants” over the “needs” is entirely up to them, but I would still recommend that they wait until the answer to the second question is a resounding “yes”.
Two things I would recommend for parents contemplating a first phone: 1) There is little reason to give a young child a web-enabled phone – put that off for as long as you can; and 2) Place restrictions on the phone or check the phone regularly for call and text contacts. Make sure you know exactly who your child is communicating with.
(Check out Verizon’s Parental Control Center for tips on managing your child’s phone experience.)
Companies are required by federal law to seek parental permission if they are going to collect data from children under the age of 13. (Remember how you had to give permission for them to sign up for Club Penguin?) Rather than comply with this legislation, Facebook and other social networks simple ban under-13s from joining.
Unfortunately, that has not stopped millions of under-13s from joining up anyway, many of them with the approval and help of their parents. Keep in mind that kids and parents are not breaking the law by doing this; however they are breaching Facebook’s Terms of Service.
Leaving aside whether it’s appropriate to lie about a child’s age or encourage them to do the same, I can understand why some parents decide to allow an under-age Facebook account. Many are worried that their child is going to go ahead and open an account with or without their permission, and they would much rather be there to help than have them stumble around the Internet on their own.
Even more so than with a cell phone, a child’s maturity and their sense of responsibility should be the determining factors. Are they mature enough to use a Facebook account in a proper manner? Do they understand the need to respect other people and their right to privacy?
Unlike cell phones and Facebook accounts, most kids who know their way around a computer have acquired at least one e-mail address by the time they reach 5th grade. These accounts are often used to keep in touch with grandma, swap innocent one-liners with school buddies, and to get updates from web sites like Fantage, Webkinz, and the like.
So it might come as a surprise to many parents to find out that all the major e-mail services are also covered by the rules that govern personal information and minors.
However, e-mail addresses are pretty much unavoidable, even for the youngest child. Many elementary school teachers encourage contact through e-mail, and most kids are far more familiar with e-mail than they are with the U.S. Postal Service!
That doesn’t mean that parents need to be any less vigilant. It is always a good idea to have a young child’s e-mail forwarded to a parent first, so it can be properly screened. Plus, it’s important to check the Send box every so often to make sure you know what’s going out as well as coming in.
Even though it can be disconcerting for parents to see their kids surrounded by so much technology at such an early age, it can also be rewarding. Children can develop a better understanding of appropriate online behavior, and hopefully avoid the mistakes that can be so damaging in later life.
How young is too young? What are your technology rules for young kids? Share your thoughts with Family Buzz!
I have been compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.