Editor’s note: For the Love of Parenting is a local parenting advice column coordinated by Krystal Arnot, director of the Little Learners Center in Eureka. When parents have questions, she’ll share strategies here.
Q: “At what age do you think your child should get a cell phone? And after that, how do you oversee their safety on social media? I’m so nervous about the exposure that I’m hesitant to even begin that conversation with my preteen.”
A: “Your child should get a cell phone when they can buy it for themselves with the money they’ve earned working. Crazy answer? Maybe, and the real answer is there is no right answer. Child development researchers and experts disagree. Parents and educators disagree. What I can say for sure is cell phones are not necessary and that should empower you to take your time and make the choice for each individual child and for yourself as a parent as carefully as possible.
“For very young children, it’s possible that screen time is damaging and it is certainly not a learning tool. Let them play. Talk to them. Put down your cell phone and be with your child. This is the most important time for your child to learn about their importance to you and they need your attention and care.
“For school-age children, there are plenty of screens in school. Opening your child up to all of the influences of the internet without your engagement is potentially damaging and again, completely optional. School-agers spend so much time in school, they need to have time to move and rest and play. Phones are not just emotionally dangerous, they are a huge time suck.
“For teens, remember that they are going through the same degree of developmental change as toddlers. This is a time when anxiety and depression are challenging many of our children, and cell phones can be both a support and a challenge for them. Have real family norms around cell phone use — how many hours a day, for what tasks, and what are the safety rules. Using cell phones for keeping in touch with busy teens and coordinating family schedules can be a huge benefit. One of the best safety norms I’ve seen is having teens call when they arrive at their destinations and giving them a family safe word or phrase for when they really want to come home but are in a situation where it might be embarrassing to say that out loud.
“Remember, cell phones are tools. You get to choose when and how they will be used in your family.”
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