Ask Mr. Dad

Ask Mr. Dad: But, Dad, everyone else has one…

April 4, 2014 

Armin “Mr. Dad” Brott

Dear Mr. Dad: When should we let our 10-year-old daughter have a cell phone? My wife says all of her friends have one and, as far as I can tell, she’s right. I don’t feel that she needs one, nor do I think she’s old enough for a $400 piece of equipment. My wife says our daughter needs a phone for safety. I’ve been holding my ground, but the pressure from wife and daughter is getting unbearable. What do we do?

Let’s start with a reality check.

I’m betting that, despite what you’ve seen, not all of your daughter’s friends actually do have a phone. According to a recent study by the National Consumers League, only 56 percent of 8-12-year-olds. “Only” is a relative term.

That said, as the dad of a 10-year-old daughter, I feel for you. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all, black-and-white solution.

Cost definitely figures in somewhere, but it’s mostly about maturity. Some 9-year-olds might be able to handle the responsibilities of having a phone, while some 14-year-olds might not be.

Eighty-four percent of parents who got their kids a cell phone did so for safety reasons, while 73 percent said it was so they could track their child’s after-school movements. While those motives sound noble, they may not be based in fact.

For example, while having a phone would give your child a way to contact you if she needed help, that same phone gives anyone and everyone a way to contact her. Specifically, it can make it easier for others to bully your child – or for her to bully others.

And while a phone’s GPS might allow you to track where your daughter goes, it can’t tell you what she’s doing or with whom she’s doing it.

As your daughter careens toward adolescence, you need to know who her friends are and what she does with them. If she’s got her own phone, she can be friends with whomever she wants – and for 10 percent of kids her age, that involves sexting.

Before you make your final decision about whether to get your daughter a cell phone, sit down with your wife and discuss these questions:

• Does your daughter truly need to communicate for safety reasons? Perhaps she rides the bus to and from school by herself.

• Is your daughter responsible enough to keep that phone safe at all times? It is an investment, after all. If the answer to the first question is “Yes,” but it’s “No” to this one, consider an old-style flip phone, which you can pick up at most stores for $20.

• Is your daughter mature enough to comprehend the myriad threats that having a phone opens her up to?

• Does your daughter want a phone simply because it’s a status symbol, or for social reasons? Neither of these is an acceptable reason, by the way.

• Can you afford to add another line to your phone bill? What about data? What about text messages?

• Does your daughter understand the limited number of minutes she’ll have or the number of text messages she can send?

• Would your daughter be likely to share her (or your) personal information with strangers or install apps that might give away her physical location?

Take these questions seriously and answer them honestly – about the way things are now, not the way you’d like them to be. Ultimately, the decision belongs solely to you and your wife – not to your daughter, and certainly not to her friends.

Armin Brott is the author of “The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be.”

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