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It is not uncommon to see toddlers staring in rapt attention at smartphone screens in restaurants, and preschoolers swiping away at touchscreen devices like a pro. By extension, it isn’t surprising to have primary schoolers, some as young as seven, asking to own their gadget.
Naturally, most parents would pause before giving the little ones a mobile phone. We all understand the conflict. On one hand, they would like their child to fit in with his or her peers in school—the convenience of reaching him or her on the phone is also great. But we also know first-hand the high risk of screen addiction, not to mention the various dangers like cyberbullying and potential exposure to illegal content like pornography and gambling sites.
In fact, tech moguls have been known to severely restrict the screen time of their own children. Bill Gates famously only gave his kids mobile phones when they turned 14.
There isn’t a definitive safe age for a child to own a phone. However, here are some questions to ask yourself before deciding one way or another. If you can confidently answer yes to most of them, perhaps, your child may well be ready to manage the privilege and responsibility of owning a smartphone.
Before you even consider giving your child a smartphone, it is important that he or she understands that screen time is limited to a reasonable amount each day and all devices should be retired at least an hour before bedtime. Once he or she is used to moderate usage and understands the rationale behind it, it becomes easier to exercise the same discipline with his or her own device.
While we nag at the children on the perils of excessive screen time, parents need to also walk the talk the curb our own addiction patterns. This makes your pep talk a lot more convincing.
At a certain point, you may start allowing your primary schooler to start walking or taking public transport home independently. At this juncture, it may make sense to have a way for him or her to contact you in case of emergencies. Also, with home-based learning becoming the norm, there may be group projects that call for virtual discussions on chat applications. So weigh these needs critically. If the reason for getting a phone is purely to facilitate socialising, then there is no rush.
While some children naturally keep their belongings in proper order, there are many who don’t. It is common for primary schoolers to occasionally lose stationery, water bottles and sometimes, even their wallets. As a smartphone is an expensive purchase, you may want your child to prove his or her ability to care for personal belongings over an extended period of time before handing over a device.
These days, there are various parent control applications for different types of smartphones. These apps may come with features like location trackers and allow you to limit screen time and block questionable sites and applications. Some can even monitor texts and calls. However, parental apps, while helpful, should be used in tandem with a holistic approach to help your child manage smartphone use appropriately.
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