How Much Freedom Should Younger Kids Have With Cell Phones?

Ugh – okay, I get it. This is a touchy subject. Parents REALLY have varying views on cellphone usage from: waiting until high school to free-reign at 10 years old.

However – someone recently asked me to share my views on cellphone usage in younger kids, so for her – I will.

For those of you who feel the same as I do, but feel like you’re alone – I will.

For those of you who are on the fence and need some perspective – I will.

Families make choices based on their child’s maturity and what works best for them – so there’s my disclaimer, before I tell you what I think. No judgements here – I’m just sharing how we’re choosing to handle the cellphone we just gifted our daughter for her 12th birthday.

1.  WE OPT FOR NO SOCIAL MEDIA: I know, I lost half of you, didn’t I? Honestly, aside from browsing nail art on Pinterest (I even question that sometimes), we give a firm NO on this one. That means

  • No Snapchat
  • No Facebook
  • No Twitter
  • No Instagram
  • No Whatever New App they come up with tomorrow

Why? It can be awful. Let’s just set aside the whole FOMO thing…(Fear Of Missing Out)…Your kid might feel bullied, left out, hurt feelings, constant insecurity, constantly in her face, constantly. It’s addicting – and in my opinion, bad for the soul. Hey – it’s bad for us grownups sometimes too, no? Your child will see that soon enough. We want to wait as long as we can before tossing her into that.

Okay, like I said, that aside..We forget (or just don’t know) that our (mine and your) accounts are “set.” So when Instagram or YouTube shows you videos “you may like” it may be cake decorating or fitness videos like mine (there’s a peek into my twisted mind), but if you set up a new account (which I have recently) there’s no search history – so they choose what they think you may like – and it’s usually garbage. It would make you sick.

Also TOS states kids have to be 13 years old before they have social media accounts. In order to sign up for one, they have to enter a birthdate that indicates they are 13 or they will not be permitted to create an account. If they find out you’re not 13 and you have one, they’ll suspend the account.

Listen – maybe you feel like I’m being too prudish here – and I’m okay with that – because I understand  both sides and I hope if you disagree, you’ll try to see where I’m coming from too. However, I worked with 6th-12th graders for 15 years and I’ve seen things get so ugly – even for the good kids. Especially for the good kids. We live in a media-world that wants your kids…and it’s lurking around for them – and too many of them fall prey. This isn’t isn’t a Chicken Little thing…We have to help our kids. Most of the younger ones honestly don’t understand what they’re up against – or what’s out there.

2. Surrender phones at bedtime – Phones are off and charging in the living room at bedtime. If we have a reason for concern – they can charge in our bedroom – but so far – we haven’t had a reason to change this.

3 Don’t delete anything – This means text messages, emails, etc. We can check it at random – and we will. Could she delete things she doesn’t want us to see – for sure…and if we start suspecting she’s being dishonest with us, we’ll take more drastic measures. But for now and hopefully forever – we’ve got a pretty honest kid.

4. No electronics at the dinner table – for obvious reasons.

5. Stay in common areas – YouTube, Netflix, etcetera – Hang out with your device in common areas where the family hangs out. Even our 6 year old on her iPad will let us know what she’s watching. Kids are watching more on devices than on TVs these days and it’s really easy to hide and, out of curiosity, or a simple spelling error – stumble upon something you would never welcome into your home.

6. We evaluate our decisions – a lot. Of course we’re the only parents on the planet who think this way, and of course our child is the only almost-12-year-old without social media. This stuff is really hard. I have a good, trustworthy kid who can handle herself well, and sometimes, I feel bad that she doesn’t have these things she wants…but for now we stand our ground. She is still so young – and there’s plenty of time for this part of the world to make its debut in her life. We will revisit the idea of social media when she turns 13 – but our answer may still be the same – no.

7. Stay in touch when you’re out with friends – Let us know that you’re okay and if we’re trying to check-in, respond in a timely manner. We know you’re attached to that phone anyway. 🙂 We leave read receipts on just for our immediate family so that we can see if she got our texts and she can see that we’ve gotten hers.

8. Set restrictions based on the agreements you and your child set. You can password protect restrictions on your child’s iPhone. You can set age and rating limits on Safari, YouTube, the App Store, iTunes, etc. I recommend talking to your child and telling them honestly what you think, while still showing that you definitely understand where they’re coming from.

9. LEARN WHAT THEY ARE USING! This one is HARD! Apps are constantly changing and evolving. Sometimes I think, if we knew what they were actually using, our jaw would be on the floor. Setting accounts to private does not stop kids from seeing things that are NOT age appropriate including, but not limited to pornography. It also does not stop creepy, sneaky people from seeking to “friend” your child. Download the apps, research, learn them. Be aware.

This can sound like a lot of rules/restrictions but these are mostly just common sense/common courtesy things. When kids are barely in junior high, they need structure – they actually crave it ,and they are too young to be bombarded with the adult content that is lurking around every corner.

Your kids are going to see and hear bad things. We can’t, nor should we want to, keep them in a bubble. It’s not about keeping them from ALL bad things, it’s about teaching them how to navigate them and avoid them when necessary.  We’ve had to talk through some stuff already. I’m an open honest book with my kids – and I’ll talk about anything…and we do, but at this point, we are going to try to do our best to keep the trash of the internet world at a distance while our children are still young, and while we can.

So, I know we all approach this topic differently,  and I’d love to know how you navigate this with your kids. What’s your strategy and how has it worked out for you?


4 thoughts on “How Much Freedom Should Younger Kids Have With Cell Phones?

  1. This is an excellent article, Melissa! Thank you for sharing! I find that it’s so helpful to hear every parenting perspective, especially about hot topics, because then as a parent, I know I am looking at the issue from every angle and making a well-informed decision for our child or family. I agree with you on the social media rules, and I think my kids will end up joining yours in having “the only parents in the world” with similar rules, ha! Sometimes, even as an adult, I don’t have the emotional capacity for some of the difficult and controversial discussions out there on social media. My young children certainly do not. We are one of the first generations to have to teach and guide our children in the significant responsibility that comes with using hand-held devices and social media daily, so I really appreciate hearing from parents who recognize that too. It’s good to know that we’re all in this together!

  2. I agree with all your rules! My kids were some of the last if not last to receive phones at the ripe age of 12. Never at any table, never in bedrooms, everyone’s phone in the basket at 9….even mom/dad.
    We did allow our 13 year old twins and 14 year old to download snapchat.
    Two of them seem to be handling it fine, but the third has become “addicted”. We recently had an intervention and it was literally like a drug addict coming down! He cried, he shook, he denied. Finally he realized.
    This is a changing world, it’s scary. I never thought I would deal with something like this. Hard lesson learned.
    One thing I might add to your list….no exchanging of inappropriate pictures. Although we think it’s really early to worry about that….it’s happening in Jr high 🙁
    Awesome info!

    1. You are so right!! THANK YOU for addressing the inappropriate picture-texting. They are NOT too young and when we think they are and fail to have those conversations – bad things happen. You make some great points. Thank you so much for sharing!

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