FP_Cellphones_Flickr.jpgIt used to be that owning a mobile phone was a status symbol, an accessory toted by businesspeople to let everyone that they were important; these days, everyone has one, and even kids are experts on texting and make missed calls.

“There is no right age for giving a child a cellphone. It really depends on the individual child's abilities and development. I think it's more of gradual giving of responsibilities to your child regarding the cellphone, similar to gradually increasing responsibilities when it comes to giving your child allowance,” says pediatrician Dr. Victoria Ang.

Most grade-schoolers these days are given mobile phones by their parents. This way, he can easily be reached in case of emergencies (i.e. sudden suspension of classes in school). Another pro: he can contact his classmates and teachers easier if he has questions about homework.

But owning a mobile phone at a young age also has its downsides. Texting and playing mobile games are easy distractions from homework and lessons. There is also the danger of him falling prey to mobile phone scammers or sex offenders.

“Regardless of a child’s age, a parent should always take precautions when it comes to using cellphones,” advises Dr. Ang. She offers the following tips:


1. TEACH THEM MOBILE SAFETY

Program only your number and numbers of other people who have a legitimate reason for calling your child (such as caregivers or classmates), and if your child's phone has the capability of blocking unprogrammed numbers, use it. And even if you have an older child, teach hin/her to never answer calls from other numbers as it could be from sex predators. “Sex offenders usually start by getting close to their victims through texting, by pretending to be teen-agers looking for friends. Then they progress to setting up a meeting with them,” says Dr. Ang.


2. SAFE TEXT

If your child receives a text message from an unknown number or person, your child should NEVER answer and should show this to you.


3. SET LIMITS

Give your child the cellphone only if you will be apart, and make sure it is turned off when he is in class or it is time to do homework. Mobile phones can easily distract a child from schoolwork and regular play, so make sure that these aspects of his schedule remain in place.


4. BE CONSCIOUS OF YOUR CHILD'S MOBILE PHONE HABITS

Ask from time to time who calls or texts him. Pay attention for signs that something odd might be happening.  even if the text message is from someone they know, if the content makes them uncomfortable, they should tell you right away. Emphasize that you will not blame him or get mad.


5. KEEP COMMUNICATION LINES OPEN

Cellphone safety (just like internet safety) stems from having a good, healthy relationship with your child, so that he doesn't keep secrets from you, and can open up to you when there's something bothering him.

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(Flashbox photo by eyeliam via Flickr Creative Commons; photo in article by digipam via Flickr Creative Commons)

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