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How do I regulate my child’s use of a cellphone?

Blog Type:  Middle School
Date Posted:  Friday, December 13, 2019

When is the best age to give a child a cell phone? How many students at EB actually have a cell phone? How should parents handle their child’s cell phone use? EB Middle School counselor Douglas Gostlin answers the questions he most commonly receives from parents. This article is the beginning of a series of Q&A on issues teenagers face when they grow up. 

Douglas Gostlin, Middle School Counselor.

What proportion of students have a cell phone at the EB Middle School?

Our students are under the national average when it comes to having a cellphone. 33% of our 6th graders have a smartphone. In 7th grade, a little more than half of the students have a smartphone, and in 8th grade nearly all students have one (94% or 32 out of 34). So, based on the national average, our kids are delaying having a smartphone. Nationwide, the average age children are getting a smartphone is 10.3 years old.

One of the reasons I see in why our students are under the national average for phone ownership is that our middle school is on the smaller side. The community is close-knit and parents who want to reach their children know who to call (other parents, the school administration, their child’s classmates). The situation would be different if we were in a larger middle school.

Why give your tween or teenager a cell phone?

The first reason parents give their child a cell phone is for safety. Parents want to be able to track their children when they are out taking public transportation or doing activities on their own.

However, for a child whose brain is not fully mature there are drawbacks to owning such a powerful device. They now have access to content that could be inappropriate, or develop unhealthy habits that can impact them in their daily lives. Additionally, these devices can be expensive and the target of theft. I recommend this article that can help parents with the decision of when to get a smartphone, “Children and cellphones: weighing the risks and benefits” and this other one from Live Science about the impact of screens on children’s developing brains.

How do I help my child handle peer pressure?

“All the kids in my class have a smartphone!” Parents hear this from their children, and feel bad that they are doing them a disservice by keeping them out of social circles and friendships. And we know these are critical for students in middle school.

But is owning a device really the answer to having quality friendships? Students can also chat with their classmates remotely using the chat function associated with their EB Google accounts. 

I also want to point out this trend of parents around the country who are pledging to not give their child a cell phone until they are in 8th grade to help their kids resist the peer-pressure. We also observe more and more parents working in the tech world who are raising their child phone-free.

When is the best age to give my child a cell phone?

What I tell parents who ask me that question is to consider the maturity level of their child, and not just the age. How is your child handling homework or chores around the house? Do they have good time management skills? Is the line of communication open with the parents? How responsibly are they handling the laptop that they get in 6th grade? Looking at a child’s behavior will give parents a good indication of whether they are mature enough to own a smartphone, and to accept the responsibilities that come with it.

My recommendation for parents is to wait as long as they can, because it’s harder to take a phone away once you’ve given it to your child. Common Sense Media has some really good tips for parents wondering what’s the best age to give a child a cell phone.

My child has a cell phone, now what?

It is important to set limits with your child. Define where tech is allowed and not allowed, for instance, no phone at the table, in the bedroom at night, etc.

If you are concerned about your child’s use, have an agreement. Your agreement can be verbal or written, and make sure it applies to you, the adult, as well, so it is meaningful. Parents need to be role models for proper use. 

I would also recommend installing proper filtering so that children don’t inadvertently find disturbing content online. Monitor your child’s use, but don’t become a spy! It is better to have a frank and honest conversation, set clear boundaries and, if the contract is not respected, then have consequences and stick to them.

What’s the EB policy regarding cell phone use for students?

At the Middle School, students are not allowed to use the phone during the school day (8:15am until 3:30pm). Students are supposed to leave their phones in their lockers. Parents who need to reach their child can call the school.