Kids and technology: how old should they be?

by DaniGirl on October 31, 2011 · 8 comments

in Mothering without a licence

This is yet another blog post inspired by a twitter conversation. (And they say twitter killed blogs!) The twitter conversation itself evolved from a conversation about bullying, and about Rick Mercer’s eloquent rant, and included this post by my friend Angela on how her 12-year-old daughter was being harassed by text messages. (It’s a good post – you should read it. I’ll wait here until you get back. Her message is important, maybe moreso that whatever I’ll come up with here, so if you only have time for one post today, read hers and come back to this one tomorrow!)

All of which brings me to what I’m wondering about, which is this: at what age do kids start getting their own cell phones? What about their own social media and online accounts? Obviously, the answer is going to be different for each family and each child, but I’m curious about your thoughts. My boys have only recently “discovered” Club Penguin and its very controlled online interactions – and this has been pretty much the extent of their interest in connecting with their peers online. I’m thinking this is a bullet I can’t dodge for long.

Really, I guess I’m just curious. I was a little surprised to hear that kids as young as 10 or 12 are carrying cell phones, to be honest. I thought this was a conversation we’d be having when the kids were approaching high school, not smack in the middle of elementary school. I asked the boys if any kids in their class have mobile phones or talk about Facebook, but they seem to be blissfully oblivious — so far, at least.

What do you think?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jody October 31, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I think it’s very location-specific. My kids are ten, in fifth grade in the States, and in our southeastern urban area, several kids have cell phones. Last spring, in a medium-sized town in central Scotland, more kids had cell phones, possibly because more kids are allowed to walk to and from school, be home alone, etc., and the cell phones made that easier. Talking to my family in the Twin Cities (Minnesota), it sounds as if 12 is the average age for kids to get cell phones there.

Social media is harder to figure out. My kids are not getting Facebook until age 13, because that’s the rule and because it drives me a little crazy, seeing my cousin’s elementary school-age kids on Facebook. It’s not a kid-friendly environment. Grrr. But we did get them gmail accounts, which involved lying about their age (we gave them my birthdate, and I know the passwords and check their content, and have their messages all forwarded to a folder in my Gmail — although I haven’t yet felt the need to check those messages, and yes, the kids know that’s the rule, I’m not being sneaky about it), so I’m not hard-line. Lately one of my daughters has come home and started chatting via Google with her iPod, and that’s the thin edge of the sword that’s going to slice all my resolutions into pieces.

I don’t know where we’ll come down on these things. I do know that the practices of my friends in the Northeast or the Midwest or Canada are probably not going to be as practical, day-to-day, as the choices made by the other parents in my neighborhood and at the kids’ school. These things do seem very location-specific.

[We blocked the kids from using chat rooms for a long time on Webkinz, and I still ask them not to accept “friend” requests from strangers in Club Penguin and Lego Universe. Types the woman who made a lot of friends via blogs over the years… ๐Ÿ˜‰ ]

2 DaniGirl October 31, 2011 at 12:19 pm

LOL, Jody, that is one of my biggest problems at home. “Holy cow, are you STILL on the computer? Get yer face off that screen and get some fresh air!”

Says my husband to me…. *blush*

But yes, you’re probably right – this will be an issue that is very much driven by the local peer environment. Hoping ours is a school heavily populated by Luddite famiies…

3 Alison October 31, 2011 at 12:58 pm

In our little western edge of Ottawa the norm for cell phone use seems to be grade 7…..almost exclusively for texting, one friend resisted the trend untill she realised that all her sons friends were making plans via text and he was being left out to some extent…..

On the other hand experiences like the one you linked to make me very nervous

4 Karen October 31, 2011 at 2:58 pm

I’m nowhere near needing to answer this question for my own child but I honestly think the answer is potentially different for every family and even within a family. I am a big believer in looking at the child and the situation to determine the best course. The biggest question when it comes to a cell phone – for me – is whether it’s a need or a want. I’m also big on encouraging tech interest so I’ll try to do that with non-phone devices as long as possible! ๐Ÿ˜‰

5 Anonymous November 1, 2011 at 6:46 am

Heh. My DD has had both a gmail and Facebook account since birth, which perhaps isn’t totally fair to her but we found amusing. The gmail account mainly so she can have the obvious address, as it was free but maybe wouldn’t have been by the time she wanted it (assuming of course that gmail is still “a thing” by then! It’s understood among her “friends” that Daddy is actually writing her status updates, though sometimes she is allowed to type her own…

She’s had her own cellphones since she was born too (sans battery so she can’t dial 911), so she doesn’t ask for her own phone yet and she’s too young for social media. But the campaign for her “own ‘puter” has begun in earnest. We haven’t come to a conclusion yet about the right age, except that two is too young!

I suspect we’ll be “early” on all counts but that we’ll also have better than average controls and monitoring. I’m not a huge fan of the incessant texting that goes on, but I suppose it’s replaced the notes we used to write. The important thing is to be aware of longterm implications. I’m sure that my daughter won’t get to use social media by herself until she can demonstrate some awareness and wisdom over the electronic trail she is creating.

6 Mary @ Parenthood November 1, 2011 at 6:57 am

Oops – that last comment was mine!

On the bullying topic: I suspect I would confront the kids directly and depending on the results I’d also block their numbers. If it became a problem we’d put in a “whitelist” on our phone. We manage our own telephone service (VoIP) so we can get as fancy as we want without involving anyone else.

Hopefully that would help. Tough situation that I hope we NEVER have to deal with!

7 Steve November 2, 2011 at 10:08 am

When they can pay for it themselves, they can have one.

8 chichimama November 3, 2011 at 8:12 pm

I think our rule regarding cell phones is going to be “when Mom feels you are old enough to a)walk home from school by yourself b)hang out and wait at an after school activity until I can pick you up or c)when you are a good enough swimmer to hang out at the pool without me and need one to have me come pick you up when you are done.”

C refuses to consider a world in which he walks to and from school alone, and is horrified by the fact that I would let him wait at gymnastics once he was done with practice. Neither kid can swim well, so I am guessing we will be on the last end of cell phone use for kids (average around here seems to be middle of 5th grade or summer between 5th and 6th).

Neither kid has expressed any interest in Facebook, and while they have their own email addresses, they are the “fake” gmail ones (name+my email address) that funnel right into my account and I just have a filter set up that sticks them in a folder.

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