7 tips on when to give children their first phone | St. Louis Public Radio

7 tips on when to give children their first phone

Aug 31, 2017

When should parents give children their first cellphone or smartphone? What factors should be considered? How do maturity, development and sleep considerations play into it all? 

St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh talked about the issues with two doctors:

  • Ken Haller, SLUCare pediatrician at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital
  • Mini Tandon, Washington University child psychiatrist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital

Maturity matters, not a specific age: “The issue is not an age, it’s not a grade. It’s actually the maturity level and the responsibility level demonstrated by that child.” – Dr. Tandon

Start early and build trust: “It’s common practice in our practice to hear ‘everyone’s doing it, everyone has one, how come our family is different?’ But everybody’s family is different. Again, it depends on what the purpose of the cellphone is and the responsibility level of your child. I think contextually, it’s true, if you’re using it just for safety purposes, why not, there’s going to be some embarrassment but you could also use it as a way to build trust and say, ‘look, yes you have this very archaic flip phone and yes, it may be embarrassing but what were’ trying to do is build trust. Once you can show us the responsibly level of just this bare skeleton version, as you age and as we can trust that you’re using it appropriately, maybe we build in the extra products that are available.’” – Dr. Tandon

“We have to start much earlier in terms of parents looking at their interactions with their children and when they put them in front of screens, how much time they put them in front of screens versus how much time they sit down and read them a book, and point out things and talk to them and just interact in that way.” – Dr. Haller

Maintain control: “You have to think about how smart you want that phone to be: what it can do and what it will have access to. If you have that conversation with your children and you decide that they can handle a cellphone, it really is important for parents to have controls where they have full access to everything on the cellphone.” – Dr. Haller

Model appropriate behavior: “If you want to model good behavior, you’re going to not text when you drive as an adult, you’re going to have to set some standards. If you don’t want your kids at the table during dinner on their phones than you might have to actually show that you can do the same.” – Dr. Tandon

Parenting style: “What we really want is more of an authoritative parenting model where the parents say to the kids, ‘We’re in a partnership here but I am your parent and there are certain rules I’m going to make in your best interest. You can ask me about that and I’m going to explain it but still the rules will be my rules and you’re going to have to meet certain standards and certain benchmarks in order to move from the flip phone to a more advanced phone.’” – Dr. Haller

Limit screen time: “I am amazed sometimes when I get kids in my office and they’re in for a regular physical and one of the questions we ask is how much time do you spend in front of a screen for recreation – this isn’t homework – this is computers, video games, various things like this, tablets – and some kids will go, 7, 7 hours a day!”

“I don’t think that’s a good thing. While this is a lot of time to be doing this one thing, my bigger problem is that it is cutting into actual time spent with friends, time spent with family, time spent with physical recreation.”– Dr. Haller

Develop a Family Media Use Plan: Dr. Haller suggests a tool developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Among the suggestions are:

  • Keep screens out of kids’ bedrooms.
  • For children under 2, substitute unstructured play and human interaction for screen time.
  • Take an active role in your children’s media education

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.