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Children's Health

Is Your Child Ready for a Cell Phone?

Consider the fine print before you let your child go mobile.
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More Than a Phone

Cell phones can also put social media, videos, games, movies, music, and TV shows within reach. Are you ready for your child to have that kind of access?

Social interaction can be positive. It's one way kids can learn to relate to other kids. But there is also the potential for "cyber bullying," which is social harassment via text, instant messaging, or other social media. Many smartphones have a "location sharing" feature, which could raise concerns about people stalking kids as they go from place to place.

There isn't a lot of research yet on how cell phones affect mental and emotional health. But early studies show that frequent texting and emailing can disrupt kids' concentration. It can also become compulsive if kids start being "on call" 24/7 to keep up with their friends.

When Are They Ready?

Think beyond your child's age before making the cell phone decision.

Caroline Knorr, parenting editor with the nonprofit group Common Sense Media, says, "Maturity and the ability to be responsible are more important than a child's numerical age.

She says, "We want our kids to be independent, to be able to walk home from school and play at the playground without us. We want them to have that old-fashioned, fun experience of being on their own, and cell phones can help with that. But parents have to do their research and talk to their children and make sure they're using the phones safely themselves, too."

As your child becomes more independent (think middle schoolers or high schoolers), they're closer to needing a phone than younger children whom you still take everywhere.

"Look for the developmental signs," Evans says. "Does your child lose his belongings? Is he generally a responsible kid? Can you trust him? Will he understand how to use the phone safely? The rate at which kids mature varies -- it will even be different among siblings."

And think long and hard about whether your child actually needs rather than wants that phone. "Children really only need phones if they're traveling alone from place to place," Evans says. "Kids in carpools may not need phones, but kids traveling on a subway or walking to school may. It's about who they are as individuals, what's going on in their lives, and how much they can handle, not a certain age or grade."

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