Having a cell phone can help your child be more independent as well as fit in socially. And it can give you some peace of mind. But cell phones can be a mixed blessing. They’re distracting — especially for kids with learning and thinking differences who may already have trouble with focus.
To be a responsible cell phone user, your child needs certain skills and abilities. The questions below can help you assess whether your child is ready. If you can’t answer “yes” to most of them, keep in mind that your child doesn’t have to start out with a smartphone. Basic starter cell phones limit the calls kids can send and receive — and some don’t offer texting or internet access.
Are you ready for your child to have a cell phone?
- Do you, as a parent, have enough time and interest to teach your child how to use a cell phone properly?
- Are you willing to set and reinforce limits on the phone, even if it means you might have to discipline your child by taking the phone away?
- Can you afford to pay for the cell phone and plan?
Can your child handle the responsibility?
- Can your child keep tabs on the cell phone throughout the day?
- Will your child remember to keep it properly charged and ready to use?
- Can your child avoid damaging it?
- Will your child keep track of and respect limits on the phone’s plan (minutes, texts, data, and so forth)?
Does your child know how to use a cell phone appropriately?
- Will your child remember to check for and respond to voice and/or text messages?
- Will your child follow rules for cell phone use at home and at school, such as no texting during dinner or phones off during class?
- Can your child gauge what other places a phone is off-limits (movie theaters or religious services, for example)?
- Does your child understand what harassment and inappropriate contact look like?
Will your child be able to communicate effectively on a cell phone?
- Can your child plan, organize, and explain things well in speech or in writing?
- Can your child follow a conversation without using body language to pick up on what others mean?
- Does your child understand which information in a conversation is most important? (In other words, can your child refrain from sending long texts or rambling voicemails?)
- Can your child understand and use emojis and abbreviations (LOL, BRB) appropriately?
Does your child need a cell phone?
- Does your child travel between family members’ houses regularly?
- Is your child involved in a lot of activities or appointments before or after school?
- Does the carpool leader ask kids to call if they’re running late?
- Does your child’s coach require the team members to be reachable before practices?
- Do your child’s teachers request that students text them any questions about homework?
- Does the school librarian rely on texts to send the location of books and other reference resources?
About the author
About the author
Lexi Walters Wright is the former community manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Bob Cunningham, EdM has been part of Understood since its founding. He’s also been the chief administrator for several independent schools and a school leader in general and special education.