What is the right age for a child to have their own cell phone?
Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - By the time Zo Egburtson got her first cell phone at age nine, most of her friends already had one.
Her mother says it wasn't a tough call to make.
"When we got rid of our landline, when she was nine. We had to have some form of communication," said Dru-Anne Hartley. "My husband works out of town, I work out of town. That way we got her the cell phone, so it just stayed in the house."
That's not uncommon. According to Common Sense Media, the percentage of households with kids ages eight and under who have access to cell phones has grown.
In 2011, 52 percent of homes had mobile devices.
That number jumped to nearly 100 percent in 2017.
"Six years ago, it was a lot more time spent on traditional screens, such as TVs, and it’s shifted much more towards mobile devices," said Michael Robb, Director of Research for Common Sense Media.
Common Sense Media is a non-profit organization that helps children and their parents navigate the digital age by answering questions such as, What is the right age for a cell phone?
"The research doesn’t provide a definite age; it’s actually not as important as a kid's maturity level is, and their kids' ability to follow family rules or school rules and what their sense of responsibility is," said Robb.
There are many factors for parents to consider, such as safety.
Spencerport student Mckenna Dwyer got her first cell phone just shy of her 12th birthday.
"I wanted one but they [her parents] also wanted me to be able to get in touch with them," Dwyer said.
It's the new normal at Cosgrove Middle School in Spencerport. Cell phones are now a part of the classroom.
"Previously, students who had their phone out during instruction were given a pretty big consequence of an in-school suspension," Cosgrove Middle School Principal Ned Dale said.
Many schools are taking a different approach in this digital age.
Spencerport is one of few schools that requires 7th graders to take a digital online course, teaching the responsibility that comes with having a cell phone.
"During this online course, with really no face-to-face instruction, students have learned how to be a good digital citizen," Dale said.
The school has also implemented zones, areas where cell phones can or can't be used: red, yellow and green light zones.
Students are also learning the importance of safety, using apps, and social media.
"Always make sure to check with your parents before downloading an app or you get a new contact or you get a social media app," Dwyer said. "Always make sure your parents are okay with it."
"Ask questions about what’s going on. You can even ask your kids to give you a tour of what they’re doing on their phones…kids like talking about technology," said Robb.
Zo is now 15 years old and has a smart phone with restricted access.
"It’s kind of a shocker to other people when they see I don’t have any social media," Zo said. "It’s a little more difficult to communicate with my friends because they use social media to communicate, other than texting and calling."
"The only thing we have a 'no' on is she’s not allowed to have Facebook. I don’t feel kids of her age or any younger need to be on Facebook," Zo's mom, Dru-Anne says.
Experts say only parents truly know when their child is ready for a device.
"You just have to put your trust into your children," said Hartley.
Robb lists some other factors to consider when thinking about a cell phone for your child.
"Will they let you know when they leave the house and will they show up when they say they will?" he said. "Do they tend to lose things like backpacks or homework folders? If so, do you really want to give them a $300 or $500 phone?"
In terms of screen time, Robb says if children are getting a healthy balance of sleep, meals and getting homework done, then you shouldn't worry.
But if any of those factors are off balance, it may be time to crack down and make some changes to habits when it comes to mobile devices.
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