Doctors Say Cell Phones and Kids Can Be a Healthy Mix
Pre-discussing boundaries and limitations are key to your child’s technological success.
We’ve been considering getting our 12-year-old son a cell phone for a while but working out the details of how it will all work feels overwhelming. What limits should we set? How much monitoring is appropriate? What should our expectations be regarding acceptable phone use?
It was clearly time to do some research, so I turned to licensed psychologist Dr. Mike Brooks who serves as director of the Austin Psychology and Assessment Center (APA Center) and lead author of the book “Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World.”
According to Brooks, a child's maturity level doesn’t always depend on age, but middle school is generally a good time to introduce a cell phone. He cites an increase in activities during this stage and corresponding tech benefits like access to videos and productivity tools as positives.
“A lot of [a child’s] peers have smartphones, too, so they may be left out in a very real way if they aren’t able to connect with others,” Brooks told TLCme.
Once you’ve decided your child can handle it, Brooks suggests starting a conversation before the cell phone ever hits your kid’s hands.
“Limitations and consequences should all be discussed before the smartphone,” Brooks said. “I like to include kids – it’s called collaborative problem-solving, where it’s not all top down, so they have some say-so.”
And while he stresses that cell phone usage is more than just a list of dos and don’ts — it’s more akin to “a lifestyle, like healthy eating” — there are a few rules he thinks are imperative.
First, cell phones should never interfere with a good night’s sleep, and Brooks believes teens should be getting nine or 10 hours per night.
“Every metric of our function goes down with sleep deprivation — mood regulation, physical health and weight,” he said. “The phone needs to be out of the room at a certain time of the night.”
Another good boundary to set considers where and when it’s appropriate to use phones. Two places they should remain absent are mealtimes (parents included!) and when kids are in the presence of friends.
“The phone should be put away to honor the people around them with their undivided attention,” Brooks said. “There are studies that show the mere presence of a cell phone diminishes the quality of our in-person social interactions.”
This is important, he adds, because research indicates that our happiness often depends on healthy relationships and social interactions – not cell phones.
“The stronger and healthier our relationships are, the happier and healthier we tend to be,” he said.
Other points Brooks wants parents to consider are that modeling healthy cell phone behavior for kids is more important than you think, as is understanding the difference between monitoring and surveillance. One good way to keep your kids in check without breaking their trust or invading their privacy is to point out that even if you’re not looking at their texts and social media accounts, other parents are.
“Our leverage of influence as parents is based on the strength of our relationship with our kids,” Brooks said, adding that part of growing up is learning to use freedom in a responsible way. “Until they’ve proven otherwise, my default is ‘I trust you.’”