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Is my child ready for a phone?


The information provided through Ask a Therapist is not intended to be a substitute for professional mental health therapy, diagnosis, or treatment. The information provided is solely for educational purposes. We encourage you to call United Action for Youth Counseling Department at 319-338-7518 and set up an appointment with one of our licensed mental health professionals to further discuss concerns and treatment options. If you believe you are a danger to self or others please call 911 or the crisis hotline at 1-855-800-1239.

Dear Concerned,

Being a parent involves helping kids learn to do things while simultaneously keeping them safe. Before very long we learn that we just cannot supervise them all the time. What we must depend on, more and more as they age and move about in the world, is how they make decisions.

Young people need lots of practice making decisions and they need adults to process things with, as decisions go well, or not so well. When we are in on their decision making we are better able to trust them and assist them, depending on the situation. Children also need to learn about privacy, and to have some confidential space. This need becomes more and more apparent as children become teens.

As an old friend told me once: “relationship drives the bus.” We all want our children to come to us when they need us, and to be increasingly independent and self-sufficient as they become adults.

A fifth or sixth grader may be ready for the responsibility, but they will need some coaching. A lot of parents give a child their first phone with the understanding that they will share it for a while.

Have a talk about exactly what apps you’re going to use and what you will look at as a parent. Are you going to look at their texts? Try to reach a clear understanding of what you’re monitoring and what happens if something comes up. It can be helpful to develop a phone contract, with a clear agreement and consequences decided in advance.

If you find something concerning going on, treat it as an opportunity to coach your young person’s decision making about safety, relationship and communication skills. When people make good decisions, they feel empowered and it improves their self-esteem. They think for themselves and don’t necessarily listen to the loudest voice in the room.

Most young people I know who are dying for a phone are quite willing to use “training wheels” for a while and to add apps gradually. Have a talk with your young person and see what kind of agreement you can make.

~A Therapist

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