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Parents' guide: Is my child ready for a phone?

Monday - 6/23/2014, 7:22am  ET

children with phone (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Young children are often fascinated with phones, but at what age should they own one? (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

How young is too young for kids to own a cellphone? At what age did you give your kids' phones and what did you consider before doing so? Post a comment in this story, comment on WTOP's Facebook Page or use #WTOP on Twitter.

WASHINGTON -- Children are getting phones at a younger age every year, but it can be hard for parents to know when their youngsters are ready for the responsibility.

A decade ago, 16 was the age when most children got their first phone. In 2009, it was 12.

Recent Pew Research data show 68 percent of 12- and 13-year-olds own cellphones, and 23 percent own a smartphone, while 83 percent of older teens between 14 and 17 own cellphones, 44 percent with a smartphone.

The newly released "A Parents' Guide to Mobile Phones", developed by the non-profit arm of the wireless communications industry, Internet safety advocates, and major phone providers offers parents tips and strategies for helping children to use mobile devices wisely and safely.

"Increasingly kids are getting phones," says Larry Magid, CBS News and Forbes Technology analyst, co- director of ConnectSafely.org, the non-profit online safety, privacy, and security organization that developed the report, with CTIA: The Wireless Association, in collaboration with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless.

The guide looks at how young people use smartphones, which is far different from the original use of voice communications.

"Activities popular with kids include photo and video sharing, texting, gaming, and a growing number of social networking apps that are not limited to the ones you might have heard of, such as Facebook and Twitter. It's all about sharing and socializing, because as kids get into their pre-teens, their interests are more and more social," says the guide.

The downloadable guide addresses how parents can monitor who their children are communicating with and the appropriateness of the applications they use, as well as controlling the cost of the child's cellphone service and apps.

Checklist: Is your child ready for a cellphone?

Magid says parents should do several things before allowing a child to have a phone.

"You give a kid a phone after you've had a conversation about privacy, security, behavior, being polite and using the phone in kind ways," says Magid.

"And then you monitor their use of the phone to make sure they're obeying the family rules," Magid says.

According to the guide, consider whether the child is:

  • Able to understand the cost of providing and using a phone and willing to stay within the usage limits you set.
  • Ready to take good care of a phone (i.e., isn't likely to lose or break it).
  • Able to manage his time and not use the phone for socializing or entertainment when there is schoolwork to be done.
  • Willing to answer when you call and call you when it's time to check in.
  • Willing to talk with you about the apps on his phone and how they're being used.
  • Able to use the phone politely, in a way that respects the feelings of the people in the room or at the other end of the conversation.
  • Willing to share his location only with close real-life friends and family.
  • Ready to accept the consequences of breaking any family cellphone rules.

Magid says parents should discuss with children that location information should only be shared with people who are known and trusted.

In some cases, parents might insist on being able to access the child's location.

"If they're going out and getting privileges to explore, I know kids like their privacy, but I know as a parent, the security of knowing where your kid is can go a long way," says Magid.

"That can bring parents peace of mind. And, if you're doing it in a thoughtful way, you won't be harassing or overly spying on your kids."

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