The right age to give kids their own phone has always been… up to the parents.

Should I give my 11-year-old daughter a mobile phone? Giving one to her is a passport to technological freedom and opens 
the floodgates to problems like cyber game addiction and other social issues. Is there an appropriate age for mobile phone ownership?

My kids don’t own a mobile phone, however, they have asked numerous times and have even presented arguments on why they should own one. They have cited:

  • I can find them at all times when I give them a mobile phone.
  • When I want to pick them up from school, all I need is to call and they will appear at the pickup spot.
  • They need it to communicate with their friends.
  • They need to follow what’s going on in the class’ WhatsApp chats.
  • If there’s a change of plans, they can contact us and vice versa.

As you can see, the arguments are well thought out and despite their persistent whines, we have not relented and my oldest child has survived the last 11 years without a mobile phone.

To prevent screen addiction in my home, tablets are only allowed on the weekends and even our television set is password protected. I think we can be called “Tiger Mom” and “Tiger Dad” in the area of “screen time.”

Our carefully plotted strategy is based on the theory of limits. We want to limit their screen time with electronic gadgets and slowly give them more access as the kids grow older. However, we do realize that our days are limited and with our oldest becoming a tween, we will need to give her a mobile phone in due time. We anticipate that the floodgates will open when she hits high school because she will be going out with friends and also facing greater peer pressure. So, we have decided to give her one but with limitations because
if we are to give her access without restrictions now it will be difficult to employ any form of restrictions later on.

These are some of our proposed guidelines with her:

Smartphone or a dumb Nokia?

Communication is mostly by smart messaging services and therefore giving her a dumb phone would be troublesome and too backward for our family. We have decided to give her a smartphone, and since Daddy has a spare one in his drawer there will be no additional cost for the family.

Limited Data Plan

There are too many stories of kids racking up the bill from excessive usage. A limited data plan will naturally restrict usage and teach them the value of being wise with the data. Additionally, this
will also reduce the risk of screen time addiction. We will look for a plan where we can limit her to x amount of dollars of data a month, or we may get her to co-pay her phone bill as she gets older.

Smartphone PreloadedWith Nanny Apps

I was recently introduced to an app called “Screen Time.” It has the ability
to lock down and open devices when
a situation arises. A parent told me
that when it was dinner time and her kids were not coming to the table
when asked—because they were preoccupied with their devices— she locked down their phones and they immediately ran to the table. Quite
a useful function I must say!
And if the kids want to uninstall the “nanny device,” notification is sent
to my phone, thereby preventing
them from making any “funny” modifications to the app.
Am I controlling? Well… like I said, I want to give them access slowly and in a controlled environment. If this app can help me in my strategy, why not? Total freedom will come when she grows older.

Design a Usage Contract

No, this one is not by the telephone service provider. This is a personal contract drawn up by parent and child upon handing over the mobile device. Basically, it is to give me
some way of imposing limitations when my teenager behaves irresponsibly with her new device.
In the contract, we will address issues like usage at dinner time and the amount of mobile usage per day. Further contractual highlights:

  • I think it will be essential to highlight that the mobile is a loan and that, ultimately, it belongs to Mommy and Daddy (in view of future arguments along the rocky road of parenting).
  • Use common sense when taking pictures, as not all pictures are appropriate for circulation on social media.
  • I’m certain addendums will be added as she gets older, and to loosely quote Uncle Ben: With great mobile power comes great responsibility.