A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Making the call on cellphones for kids

Mom giving son a cell phoneCellphones – they’re on many kids’ wish lists, but should you buy one for your child?

For families with busy schedules, cellphones make it easy to stay in contact, said Dr. James Meyer, Marshfield Clinic adolescent medicine specialist.

“Whether kids truly need a cellphone is a difficult question,” he said. “Some families believe trust and communication should happen outside of technology.”

If you do decide to get your child a cell or a smartphone, think about how he or she will use it and set rules for safe use.

When should I get my child a cellphone?

The answer depends on your family circumstances.

A basic cellphone may be helpful to kids as young as 6 or 8 in certain situations such as these:

  • Going between different relatives’ homes for childcare.
  • Walking short distances to school.
  • Medical conditions like asthma, diabetes or seizures.

Cellphones can help older kids plan rides to after-school activities, jobs and friends’ houses. Parents can use GPS on some phones to track where their children are.

Smartphones typically are more appropriate for kids 12 and older, but it’s up to each family to decide which phone is the best choice.

“At any age, parents want to look for evidence of responsibility,” Meyer said. “Kids should have the maturity to follow rules and take care of a cellphone.”

Limit screen time

Set limits for how much time your kids can spend using cellphones and when they can use them.

Texting and using apps count toward the two-hour screen time limit currently recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (the AAP recently announced it plans to revise this recommendation in 2016).

Encourage kids to do physical activity or spend time with family and friends. Ask them to put away their phones during dinner and conversations.

Keep your kids from losing sleep at night by charging cellphones outside their bedrooms.

“Older kids may give up sleep to communicate with peers,” Meyer said. “That can have a negative impact on their performance during the day.”

Safe cellphone use

Cellphones can mean dangers for kids in the form of distractions and contact with strangers or bullies.

Talk to your teens about the dangers of texting and driving. Cellphone use leads to 1.2 million car crashes each year, according to the National Safety Council.

Using a cellphone while biking, skateboarding or even walking can distract kids from traffic and other pedestrians.

“Talk to your kids about expectations as far as who their contacts are and how they use their phone,” Meyer said.

Know what apps your kids use, who they’re texting and what kind of pictures they’re taking. Parents can use apps to check or limit how kids use their phones.

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