For many tweens heading into middle school, the transition from elementary school won’t be marked only by new teachers, class schedules and locker assignments, but also by a gleaming new phone.
Deciding whether a middle schooler is ready to take on mobile phone responsibility is a personal decision for each family. The device, whether smart or basic, brings up concerns from parents as summer turns into structured school days and packedafter-school hours.
An April Pew Research Center study reported 88 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds own or have access to some sort of phone; 73 percent own or have access to a smartphone. Those findings match up with the typical age for a student’s first phone of around 12 for a basic cellphone and older than 13 for a smartphone.
Cost, maturity, time management and other factors play into the decision to give a child a phone. Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that advocates for family education on media and technology, delves into those topics on its website.
“We believe it’s important to consider how your kid is going to be using it,” said Common Sense Media parenting editor Caroline Knorr.
Many teachers are including technology in the classroom to track schedules, homework, assignments and projects, Knorr noted. Some are relying on phone apps, such as Google Docs, to share reports and submit answers, along with other phone-based learning tools.
But social apps and texts are constant temptations that can distract students from schoolwork.
Every classroom, school district and youth organization rolls out different expectations for phone use. But for every situation, Knorr said, parents need to consistently set their own rules.
CTIA, a nonprofit organization that represents wireless communications companies, advocates for healthy digital media consumption. Its Growing Wireless platform is geared toward parents and kids using digital devices.
Jamie Hastings, CTIA vice president of external and state affairs, said giving a child a phone is a family decision — one that continues to skew toward younger ages as the devices drop in price.
Once kids get a device, Hastings stressed, it’s up to parents to “understand how they are using” it. Keep checking in and communicating, she said.
For parents whose tweens are reaching the stage when they’re not talking as much to mom and dad, the device offers potential gains, said Liz Kolb, clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Education. She researches education technologies with a focus on mobile phones.
Using the device that seems to be pushing your son or daughter away might be the best way to communicate. Send a text to thaw the communication freeze, Kolb advised.
“Middle school is a very important time for parents to be in tune with what their children are doing,” she said, which includes online and mobile interactions and decisions. “This is when talking about phone use is pertinent.”
Kolb recommended creating a contract. If children want to download a new app, they must check with mom or dad and set it up together.
Supervised phone use is a way to monitor youngsters’ digital decisions while giving them responsibility and freedom.
“It’s actually safer if we can have our children come to us,” she said. “As we know, when we don’t permit our children to use things, they will find a way.”
Tribune News Service