It’s no secret that there’s a lot to consider when deciding whether or not to get your kid a phone. When my own daughter first asked if she could have one, I yo-yoed in my response.
“You don’t need a phone!” was quickly followed with, “Wait, do you need a phone?” And even more embarrassingly by, “What is everyone else doing?!”
Maybe you can relate.
Today I want to share what I’ve learned about why your elementary or middle schooler should, indeed, get a phone based on what we know about teaching and learning.
A little (educational) backstory
Both of my parents were teachers. For my entire childhood, they came home with chalk hand prints on their pants and piles of papers to grade.
I studied Human Development and Education, volunteering in first grade classrooms while my peers spent their afternoons relaxing on the quad and working at the gym. I became a classroom and reading teacher for a decade or so, taking ridiculous pleasure in penciled-in lesson plan books and piles of prepped construction paper projects.
All of this is to say that I get really excited about well-argued teaching theories, cutting edge earning methods, and what really and truly makes learning stick.
But I promise not to lose sight of what’s really important here. What I want to focus on today (catch that teacher speak?) isn’t educational theory or even parenting theory. I want to focus on what’s best for our kids.
What’s best for kids in a digital age
We are the first generation of parents and educators raising digital kids without having been digitally oriented as kids ourselves. This means that we can’t rely on what we were taught, because no one taught us!
And the Internet, while filled with amazing opportunities and chances to be creative, connected, and to use our voice, can also be dangerous.
So here’s why – not despite, but because all of that – I recommend that you let your kids get a phone when at a younger age than may be typical.
5 reasons to say “yes” to a phone
1 | At age nine or 10, your kids expect you to have opinions about their lives. This includes their digital lives. Use this to your advantage, and teach them to make wise choices.
2 | If you wait until they’re 12 or 13, they will be developmentally ready for a lot of independence. Handing them a really powerful tool at the very same time they’re listening to their peers more than they listen to you is dangerous.
3 | There’s so much to learn about having a digital life – from how permanent our social media posts really are to the fickle nature of privacy settings to what can be easily screen captured and shared – that it’s too much to ask our kids to grasp in one short “Happy birthday, here’s a phone” conversation.
4 | Start early and start small, having short, repeated conversations over and over again, while they’re still listening to you! When they hit 12 or 13 and look for that independence, they’ll have a wonderful base of supportive, reliable information that you’ve taught them.
5 | A big part of learning is practicing, floundering, and recovering quickly. Our kids need the chance to make their inevitable mistakes online and, with our guidance, have the chance to fix those mistakes and try again. This can’t happen in theory, but it can happen with small phone privileges at younger ages.
Remember being young and assuming that you were invincible?
Our kids are exactly the same, except the Internet gives them access to a whole array of mistakes to make that we never had at our impulsive fingertips.
I know in my educationally sound heart-of-hearts that a kid making small mistakes with guidance and help from her parents at age 10, is going to be far better off than a peer who’s given free social media rein at age 13.
How this plays out close to home
As for my own daughter, she did end up getting a phone at age 10, and we fumbled through its use together.
Today, at almost 13, she has better social media habits than most adults I know. She also thinks that we “talk about this stuff” at home just a little too much.
For the record, I am 100 percent okay with that.