By Waheeda Essop (Occupational Therapist)

Every child is unique. Every child develops at a different pace, some are quickly mature, others remain childish longer than their peers. So, defining the right age to give your child a cellphone cannot be prescribed by anyone other than you. 

One can, however, consider a few things before handing over the much-wanted device. “Issuing” a first-phone is almost like drawing up a contract. Does your child have an understanding of what a contract is or what it means to have a formal obligation around the device and does he or she understand the consequences of breaking an agreement. 

Is your child ready for the onslaught of social media? She may see the phone as a cool means of communicating with her friends, but do they have a concept of ‘sharing’ information, posting pics and grasping the ramifications of this, does he have insight on how to sift through information sorting through the real from the bogus, and most importantly is your child primed enough to handle the dynamics of cyber bullying.

So, when giving your child a phone think of it as taking your child to a completely foreign playground, with new people and new equipment. How would you prepare him, what would you say and particularly, what rules would you create. Similarly, rules and boundaries can be set with a phone. These can cover time spent on the phone, use of data, control of sites and social media. As a parent one should have full access to the phone, know their passwords, and always be able to follow their digital footprint. With this insight a parent can supervise a child as we do in all other areas of children’s many-faceted lives.

An infringement of the contract should also have a policy. These should be discussed and explained at the onset. The challenging part is maintaining consistency with the implementation of these rules. But granted, if ‘punishment’ is the temporary confiscation of the device, your child will definitely be hesitant to break the rules again. 

Remember, your child is still growing and learning. So, time outside the screen is precious. It is the time you can use to counter the effects of the screen, allowing your child to be physically and emotionally strong. As parents we do not need to optimize our children’s use of technology, but rather focus on optimizing its users.  

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