Yes, you read the title correctly. In my opinion, your child will eventually need a cell phone, and they will need it before the teenage years hit full throttle. Many parents are shocked to have a doctor tell them that. I know from talking to many parents that the issue of cell phones can be stressful, and opinions on cell phones vary greatly. Some of you may be inclined to get your child a cell phone at a very young age (lets say 8) especially if there are two working parents who have a harder time keeping tabs on their kids during after-school activities and events. Others want to get their child a cell phone but aren’t sure what is the best age. Still other parents might be thinking “I didn’t have a cell phone when I was growing up and I did just fine, so my child doesn’t need one either”. I’m sorry to say that this logic doesn’t apply to cell phones. Your child will eventually need a cell phone. Allow me to explain.
Pre-teen and teen culture has radically changed since you hit the middle school scene. Nowadays, your child lives in a world where real time communication (via texting, email, facebook, twitter, etc.) is not only the norm, but is the foundation for their social world. Teens can and do communicate in real time about everything. There is no waiting to get home from school to call a friend to talk about what happened on the bus. There is immediate real-time discussion of events, real-time planning of social activities, real-time making of friendships and bonding. Face-to-face conversations obviously still occur, but the expectation and the reality is that the communication continues right up until the next face-to-face conversation. Communication is fast and furious.
I know it can be hard for parents to really understand this world and what impact not having a cell phone could have. To put it in perspective, imagine that you, when you were a teen, were only allowed to talk to your friends once every other day. All of your other friends were talking multiple times during the day in class, at lunch, on the bus, on the phone after school. What kind of toll would that eventually have on your social life, your friendships, and even your self-esteem? Some of you might think this example sounds extreme, but I think it appropriately conveys how critical a cell phone is to teen social life.
Pre-teen and teen years are tumultuous, difficult years spent trying to figure out who you are and trying to fit in. Without a cell phone by a reasonable age, by 13 or 14, these years will be much harder. Teens without phones will be excluded from much of the communication that is going on about their world. They will be out of the loop on the social scene, they will be behind the times in terms of teen current events, and they will have a harder time fitting in. Friendships will be more difficult to make and keep as they potentially become a social afterthought. Each child is unique, so the toll this might take on them varies greatly. But why put them at risk for social hardship and increase the chance of mental health issues such as depression and self-injury? Cell phones are a very real and important part of your child’s world and your child will need one to fit in.
If your policy is “no cell phones” for your teen or you are inclined to wait much past age 14, I urge you to think twice and fully consider all of the implications of this decision. If you are struggling to understand what age is right for your child, start by talking to them. Regardless of your opinions, know that as the parent, you play an instrumental role in making a cell phone a successful venture for your child. Start getting ready. My next couple blog posts will help you get started.