A few years ago I would have written a post arguing that no child needs a cell phone, let alone the mini-computing marvel of the contemporary smartphone. But now? I’m a believer.
I got my son a smartphone last year as I was changing service providers and getting myself a new phone. They made me a fantastic offer on the whole package and I didn’t refuse. A few weeks before our upgrade date, my son’s Blackberry went down a storm drain. “Well,” I said, “You have an old flip phone. You can wait a couple of weeks.” By the time the upgrade date rolled around, something funny had happened. I was almost as anxious for my son to replace his smartphone as he was! The convenience of the always-connected family is hard to ignore. So why should you consider getting smartphones for your kids?
1. Location, location, location. Signing up for a location service like Google Latitude or Foursquare allows you and your child to both know one another’s location at all times. Rather than having to call your child, risk being screened, then have to ask, “Where are you? Did you remember to go to Lego Robotics club after school?” every single day, you can just check the map. Likewise, when you’re running late after work, your child can easily see where you are and track your progress toward home. All of the major service providers offer family locator services for standard phones, but these cost an additional fee each month. Smartphones allow you to have the same service, with better features, for free.
2. Navigation is not just for cars. Despite our best lecturing, coaching, and worrying, kids occasionally wind up where they aren’t supposed to be. My son missed the bus once, and despite the fact that walking home only involves a single left turn, he somehow got terribly lost. Knowing that your child has access to instant GPS walking navigation provides tremendous peace of mind. A smartphone means never being lost.
3. Homework. OK, your child is likely to oversell this point, but the smartphone is, in fact, helpful for managing homework. For schools like ours that use Blackboard, there are mobile apps that allow your child to pull up classes online in no time flat. Add in apps for dictionaries and calculators, flashcards, learning games, reading apps like Kindle and Nook, plus the ability to surf the web, and you really do have a helpful homework tool. It’s always connected, available, and pocket portable, unlike the family computer.
4. Photos and video. While standard phones do allow you to take pictures and send them via MMS, you probably have to pay more for your texting plan to make meaningful use of these features. The smartphone bundle frees you up to take and send as many photos and videos you want. When my son’s locker was out of control, I required him to take a daily photo and text it to me. It was a great way to keep on top of the situation without having to drive to the school each night. And my new phone allows us to video chat. From anywhere. Awesome.
5. Your child will care for their phone better than the family pet. You can be pretty sure the phone won’t be lost or broken, barring freak accidents. Also, you now have the number one ace up your sleeve. Any rule infraction can result in the loss of the phone, thus motivating your child to get good grades, do chores, and generally grow a halo.
6. It costs less than you think. By the time you pay for the extras on a standard phone like family locator, unlimited texting, and more minutes because the phone can’t Skype on your home wireless internet service, you’re paying about as much as you would to have a smartphone with a data plan. If you’ve got a smartphone for yourself, adding one for your child doesn’t cost all that much more.
I pinkie-swear promise that I did not receive any payments, bribes, or “incentives” from the United Federation of Kids Everywhere to write this post. And I do know that there are arguments against giving kids smartphones or even standard cell phones. But for our family, the benefits win.
What do you think?