BY ERIK J. MARTIN
SHE’S MASTERED the tablet without too
many tantrums. He gets his homework done
before turning on the game console. But is
your son or daughter ready for a mobile
phone? Since the dawn of the smartphone
era, it’s become an age-old question—literally.
The average age when children receive
their first smartphone today is ;;.; years,
per a ;;;; report by marketing agency
Influence Central. And a ;;;; report by
Ottawa-headquartered MediaSmarts, a
non-profit for digital and media literacy,
indicates that nearly ;; per cent of fourth-grade students own their own cellphone—
a number that rises to ;; per cent for
Yet, a ;;;; poll by Common Sense
Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated
to helping kids thrive in a world of media
and technology, should give parents pause:
;; per cent of kids revealed they are
addicted to their smartphones, and ;; per
cent of parents believe their offspring overuse mobile devices.
Dr. Jason Daniels, a University of Alberta
technology researcher and Costco member,
gave his daughter and two sons their first
smartphones around age ;;. He has no
regrets, although parenting in the digital
age can be challenging, he says.
“It’s a constant battle to keep them from
overusing their phones, and I still have to
go into their rooms every night and try to
round up their phones, which they try to
sleep with,” says Daniels. “But the commu-
nication aspect was huge. It made me more
comfortable that I could get in touch with
them at all times.”
Indeed, granting smartphone permis-
sion has its benefits, including the instant
ability to communicate with and locate your
child; access to educational apps, learning
tools and homework resources; and the
opportunity to connect with friends and
relatives via chat and social platforms.
The risks, however, are many: distraction from homework, chores and safe
driving; possible exposure to inappropriate
material or predators; a broken, stolen or
lost device; exposure to radio waves (more
research is needed on health hazards); and
disrupted sleep patterns. Children who use
media devices before bedtime were more
than twice as likely as non-users to sleep an
inadequate amount, reports a study published last year in JAMA Pediatrics.
Costco member Bill Ratner, the Los
Angeles–based author of the book Parenting
for the Digital Age (Familius, ;;;;), can’t
suggest a specific age for giving children
WHEN THE ANSWER IS YES
IF YOU’VE decided to let your youngster
go mobile, consider these tips:
• Choose an inexpensive model you
can afford to replace or fix. Remember:
That first phone doesn’t have to be smart.
• Deactivate features that worry you,
such as web and camera access or
in-app purchases. Ask your mobile provider to prevent access to adult content,
and explore parental control apps.
• Establish clear boundaries, including
time limits, acceptable texting and online
behaviours, and who pays for what.
“Have your child participate in creating
these rules so that he or she is invested
in them,” says Megan Moreno.
• Stress safety guidelines, like what to
do if a stranger calls or texts, keeping the
device away from the body whenever
possible to reduce exposure to radio
waves and not being a target for thieves.
• Brush up on your school’s rules.
Some schools limit or prohibit student
mobile phone use.—EJM
BACK TO SCHOOL
cellphones. Rather, he recommends
that “parents determine the age at
which a child needs a cellphone for
safety reasons, and at that point they
should give their child a simple
old-fashioned flip phone without
game options, thus fulfilling the
family’s need for contact and security without addicting the child to a
Reaching a verdict
Ask Costco member Jane Tallim,
co-executive director of MediaSmarts,
and she’ll tell you a parent’s choice
should be based less on age than on
the child’s personality and maturity.
“The challenge of younger kids
having mobile phones is that, without
supervision, they can be more vul-
nerable to negative aspects of tech-
nology,” Tallim says. “But at the same time,
grades four to six can actually be a good time
to introduce a cellphone, if you think your
child is ready, because this is an age when
parents can exert considerable influence on
their behaviours. But establishing family
rules is important.”
These rules and decisions can be deter-
mined after you ask important questions,
says Costco member Megan Moreno, lead
author of the American Academy of
Pediatrics’ recent guidelines for media use
among schoolchildren and adolescents
(details at tinyurl.com/aapmediatoolkit).
“Can your child keep it safe? How will
you help your child avoid inappropriate
information, cyberbullying or interacting
with strangers? What features and apps are
acceptable and off-limits? And can your
child follow the rules, even without you
present?” Moreno asks. “It’s critical to come
up with rules and expectations about ownership and responsibility of the phone.” C
Erik J. Martin (martinspiration.blogspot.
com) is a Chicago area–based freelancer.
Is your child ready
to enter the
When your child is ready, smartphones are
available at the Wireless etc. kiosks in
Costco warehouses and on Costco.ca.