6 Reasons to Get Your Kid a Smartphone

Family GeekMom

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.

Checking homework via Blackboard on the HTC Hero. Image: Jessamyn

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?

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27 thoughts on “6 Reasons to Get Your Kid a Smartphone

  1. I appreciate the creativity of these thoughts but feel it is highly unlikely that

    (a) a kid will be able to use a GPS system

    (b) if the kid care for the phone more than a family pet, why did your son’s end up in a storm drain?

    (c) should kids care more about things than animals?

    1. Clearly there is an age in mind when getting a child a smartphone. Even that being said, children’s (and adult’s) intelligence range greatly especially when it comes to technology, so it would depend on the child and how comfortable he or she is with the phone.

      (a) Smartphones can be programmed with a list of addresses in them. The phone will automatically pick up your current location and the kid would just have to select “home.” Easy enough.

      (b) Everyone has accidents. I love my cell phone to no end, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t fallen in its share of toliets. =(

      (c) I don’t think #5 implies that the child will -love- the phone more than the family pet. It just states that they will take care of it better. Last time I checked, it’s a lot easier to take care of a phone than a dog.

      Having a smartphone also means not having to have a separate mp3 player. Another money saver.

  2. I would think twice before letting children use cell phones at all after doing some research on cell phone radiation. Here are just a few points discussed in an article titled “Cell Phone Risks and Radiation” http://www.menshealth.com/print/19115 which summarized most of the major points I found researching this topic.

    – the article describes the lack of long-term studies and the consequences associated with that lack of data (“widespread cellphone use in the United States began only in the mid-1990s” and children and users under 30 make up the majority of cellphone users)
    – talks about the potential effects on children (“A former cellphone-industry researcher from the University of Utah, Om Gandhi, Sc.D., has discovered that children’s brains absorb far more RF radiation than adult brains do.”)
    – and conveys a sobering argument I had never considered before:

    For reasons like it “took 40 years for brain tumors to show up after Hiroshima” “critics of cellphone radiation compare our position today — at the dawn of wireless communication — to that of our grandparents upon the widespread introduction of tobacco and asbestos into the environment in the past century. It took decades for these carcinogens to leave a mark on official health statistics, but the body counts grew exponentially: few cancers in the beginning, then a sharp slope upward. If this scenario’s cost in human suffering doesn’t bother you, consider its financial repercussions: It can cost $200,000 to treat a brain tumor.”

    You can check a site like this to see what amount of radiation your phone is emitting: http://reviews.cnet.com/2719-6602_7-291-2.html?tag=page;page

    I recently reconnected my land-line and keep my cell phone at arms length or more away from me whenever possible. Paranoid? Maybe, but why take the chance?

    1. Do u realise how much radiation is around you constantly?

      Radio waves blanket the planet. The heat off your body is radiation.
      The very fact that you can see your own hand is proof that radiation is going inside your own skull.
      There is a giant range in the eletromagnetic specturm (radiation) very small amount of it is gene smashing/tumour creating radiation

      1. Yes, I know that radiation is all around us and is emitted by a wide variety of objects (rocks, building materials, electrical wiring, etc.) The sun also shines on us and is a major source of vitamin D (beneficial and necessary), however if we get too much sun (sunburns), especially at an early age, we are more than 40% more likely to develop melanoma in later years. I’m not a gambler, so I use sunscreen and now, though I still own and use a cell phone, I try to limit my exposure. If cell phones end up proving to be totally harmless, I’ve lost nothing.

        1. Is it from the phone being close to your head? Because doesn’t everyone use handsfree now? Either earbuds or bluetooth? Also I never see kids talking on their phones, they’re texting. Maybe I’m misunderstanding the radiation factor, but if not I think the benefits of getting your child a phone outweigh the brain tumor risk. But I could be severely misinformed.

  3. Reasons not to get a kid a smartphone:
    1) unknown predators
    2) bullying
    3) access to the internet that is unsupervised
    4) too many texts/emails/calls from friends
    5) the hassle of having to constantly keep up with tools to block/manage #1, 2, 3, & 4
    6) too tempting of a distraction–does he turn it off at school– remember to turn it on?? does he turn it in at home? do you remember to take it?
    7) will having a cellphone encourage reckless behavior? (sure, with GPS I’ll walk through that bad area, I won’t get lost).
    8) interrupts focus

    Do your reasons trump these reasons? I’m not seeing it.

    1. I completely disagree with every point you made.

      Let’s go through them one at a time.

      1. I have no idea what that is even supposed to mean. Two words do not an argument make.

      2. How exactly is having a smartphone going to lead to bullying? Or is it going to make it easier for the kid to bully others? Again, I don’t really know what this even means.

      3. Having a smartphone doesn’t fundamentally alter the fact that your kid can probably get past any blocking/tracking software on the computer, has access to computers at school and friends houses, and can use other people’s smartphones to get online. The kid already has unsupervised access to the internet. To think otherwise is to delude yourself.

      4. How is this a problem you wouldn’t have with a regular phone? If anything this is an argument against letting a kid have a phone. And it is a weak one at that.

      5. Ignoring the first two the only things to manage are the number of texts and stuff which you have to do anyway and something you just can’t do. So… there is no extra hassle really.

      6. There is a fantastic app called Tasker. All of that becomes automated.

      7. If you do a good job teaching your kid they will know to go around the bad neighborhood anyway. Then they will hit the “update route” button on their google maps and will have a new path to walk home. No problem.

      So as far as I can tell you just made a list of seven things that are either unrelated to or not a problem with letting a kid have a smartphone.

    1. I wasn’t going to comment again… then you brought up sexting.

      Apparently you don’t remember being young. If they don’t have a phone with a camera they will use a webcam. Or a digital camera, either their own or yours or a friends, and email. Or they will use a freaking polaroid, or just have regular old fashioned phone sex. I mean come on. They will find a way to do sexually explicit things regardless of the medium. Even if that means just sneaking out to do it in person. I don’t know if there was anyone who didn’t use whatever technology they had to do things like sexting when I was in middle/high school.

      So maybe it is time to stop talking about sexting and deal with the fact that kids are interested in sex and nothing that their parents or political leaders do will change that. All we can do is teach them to be safe.

      Sorry. Rant over.

  4. I think Jessamyn has some good points. I think there are pros and cons of cell or smartphones that each parent has to weigh and decide for themselves and their kids.

    To Maria, my son, 10, only gets to use my Android phone when I hand it to him in the car to make driving safer. Usually, by the third time I talk him through something, he has it. He can find places on maps, set up navigation for me, find contacts, make calls, look up stuff on the web, geocaching apps. He’s even getting comfortable looking up nutrition information in the calorie tracker app (for me) when we’re looking to eat out.

    If you truly believe cell phone radiation is an issue, you shouldn’t have a cell phone or a smartphone–or a cordless phone. Otherwise, your actions are inconsistent with your professed beliefs and set a bad example for your children. Several of Jessamyn’s points depend on the parent having a smartphone too, so the whole discussion is moot for you.

    Ottr has some good points to consider. My answer to 1, 2, and 4 would be, “If you give your contact information to anyone without my permission, the phone goes permanently.” (Sprint Everything plans eliminate the overage worries. Our bill shows all inbound and outbound numbers, so violations are visible quickly–assuming I don’t just check the phone’s call log every day.)

    I think 3 is a matter of training. You can’t watch your kid 100% of the time. Are you sure their friends’ parents monitor internet use when your child is visiting? Do you agree with them about which video games are appropriate? etc. etc. Probably not as much as you think. Better train your child so you can loosen the reins as they get older.

    5 is dependent on 1-4, so to the extent you believe the above mitigate 1-4, they also mitigate 5.

    6 is harder. There are apps that can turn off the radios based on time or location. On the other hand, if your child is using a web calendar function to track homework and such, you may want to leave the radio on (just turn off the ringer) or get an offline calendar app that syncs to your web calendar.

    Neither option stops the kid from playing games. That’s a training thing. Also, playing games requires a lot more focus and attention than texting, so is more likely to get teacher attention. So if you can eliminate all but the games, you’ve decreased the chance your child will have distractions that won’t be caught. Like most things in life, this is about risk mitigation, not risk prevention. If you feel the risk isn’t adequately mitigated, you may choose a more extreme mitigation strategy (no phone).

    7 is interesting. It made me recognize something I need to do with my son, so thanks.

    When you move to a new town, you learn where the bad areas are by either traveling through them and having a bad experience or traveling through them and seeing signs that warn you or hearing from others. Maybe your kid has lived there all their lives, but until they stop reading their books or playing their games when you move around town, they aren’t learning the geography, so might as well be in a place they’ve never been before.

    I don’t want my child learning by the first method, so I need to teach him by the second and third. Some approaches I might use include Google street view to show him the bad areas “on the ground” and point out danger signs. Show him areas to avoid on the map and help him get a better sense of local geography. Drive through the bad section and point out danger signs. etc.

    When he gets a phone, I’ll also tell them, “Always call me before you leave and tell me what your route is. I’ll tell you if you need to change it.” This is another opportunity to say, “This is a bad area because… These features tell you this is bad area…”. It also lets me know when he’s supposed to be home. This is also an opportunity to teach him to question and think critically about information presented to him.

    I hope that, one day, he’ll call me and say, “The nav says to go down X Street, but I know that’s a bad area, so I’m going to go to Y Avenue.” And I’ll smile, knowing I’ve helped him learn and become wiser.

  5. It be the age of my kids versus other commenters, but we are happily an all smart phone family. In addition to the statements above – we have also gotten rid of our home phone (cost savings!) since the monthly payments on 4 smart phones is LESS than the typical home phone cost.

    The schools, doctors, etc. have my cell phone number – it is the best way to reach me night or day.

    Security and controls are significantly easier in a smartphone than in a standard cell phone. Most of them have a button that will take the user to the internet — if you are not already paying for the service this is usually a huge cost addition to the bill even when tapped accidentally.

    In terms of kids having phones at all – I am a working mom and although I try hard, I am often late for school pick up. I could text my daughter and let her know if I was 5 or 30 minutes away. Sometimes she would just call to ask about going to a friend’s house, etc. Schools have strict rules about phones and the kids have to follow them.

    I respect other’s have different ideas, but this decision was the right one for our family.

  6. There is one reason not to get my kid a smartphone, and it’s compelling enough for me: it competes with other physical world activities.

    As a software developer who spends a lot of time in the virtual world, I do know what’s like to be there too much. It make me sad to see kids at gathering rather than socializing, playing with their smartphones. Yes, in the real world now a day you can’t escape computers and smartphones, but you could shift more of your kids’ focus on the physical world by not giving them their own smartphones. There is more to learning than looking up answers on the web.

  7. Great article. I would like to note however, that as a relatively geeky teen leaving high school myself (I was pointed to this article from the magazine Wired…) parents should understand that if your child is more technologically adept than you, do not expect your GPS tracking system to give you reliable location data. This is not to say that the app will not work as advertised, I’m sure almost any would given the right circumstances, just don’t be surprised when little Bobby is caught sneaking in at 3 AM coming back from a phat rager when your tracking system clearly shows him in his room. We are more resourceful than you think. Regardless of OS (Android, iOS, BlackBerry, even Symbian or WP7) we will circumvent these safeguards. Older kids will help. Geeky friends will help. The internet will help.

    The point is, if you think this will help you control or keep track of your kids well, it won’t. It will however allow them to stay in better contact with you and that is the best you can hope for. All teens these days get the same feeling when they are without their phones. We feel naked. It’s like taking a watch off for the first time in months. We feel off. If they have a phone they like and care about, they will not be without it or at least not for very long.

  8. I agree with every point Jessamyn made. Granted, my daughter is 5 and won’t be able to use or care for one properly, yet, but I guarentee by 12, I’ll know more about her comings and goings than Big Brother, while simultaneously allowing her a broader and happier social life than I’d ever imagined as a teen. I, personally, have found myself afraid to say anything on the subject because the rantings of parents against cellphones is so loud, the rest of us have been bullied into whispering our opinions against the status quo in the safety of our closed homes. THANK YOU, JESSAMYN for saying it!

    As for those of you who disagree, you are so entitled. I don’t see the point in arguing over it. My kid will be able to contact me from any situation, at any point on any day. That gives me peace. If preventing them from having those abilities gives you peace, so be it. Hopefully ALL our children will grow up safe and at peace with us…their over protective, worrisome parents. =D

  9. my son, at 13, does not have a phone yet, smart or dumb…
    I go back and forth. you list a buncha good reasons, but I still have the lack of moving through the physical world as the main reason I haven’t gotten him his own phone. Those danged games are so pervasive and I really don’t think an impulsive 13 year old has the capability to not waste insane amounts of time playing them, when he could be reading or playing with friends. Heck, I have a hard time not wasting time on the computer or PS3.. 🙂
    I also often see groups of 13 y/o s standing around, staring at their phones instead of interacting. Now THAT is depressing.
    But you make some good points and have made me start to rethink the issue, so thanks! 🙂

  10. My son got a cell phone on 3rd grade. It was a MiGo with only 4buttons but it had child locate and worked for it’s purpose…. Safety in riding his bike to school. As he got older, the phone got more sophisticated. And yet he knows and relies on the locate function….. First day from new house to school (and despite having ridden the route several times with us adults) he got lost. I imagine we will upgrade to a smarter phone when he starts driving shortly.

    I see no reason to isolate my son technically. He knows he has an illusion of privacy and that it is an illusion only. We warned if we had reason to suspect anything untold, we would not hesitate to invade every aspect of his technological life. While not a IT expert, I happen to have access to resources and a car so I imagine I can get his computer and phone dissected easily enough. but ultimately, I agree with GeekMom here that as a resource, it can be wonderfully useful. The electronic leash, especially. As with any resource, it can be abused but that is indeed why we are here as parents, right? To expose them to the real world and teach them to navigate it responsibly. Hiding things from our kids won’t help them. They will encounter technology and need to be aware how to interact without being dumb, costing someone a fortune, or getting into something illicit.

  11. I completely agree. My daughter got a cell phone at 7 soley for me to call her and for her to call me. But, it was the free flip and she didn’t use it intuitively and rarely had it charged or turned on.

    Then she wanted a touch. I passed down my old iPhone 3Gs. She can only text me. She can only use the internet at home or where there’s wireless since she has the cheapest data plan. She plays games on it (she gets iTunes gift cards for Christmas) and thus, keeps it charged and with her the whole time.

    The visual voicemail and texting is intuitive. We are in contact a lot more often and thus, she gets more freedom.

    I check up on her use and what she’s doing even though I trust her and she’s a great kid.

    Right on, Jessamyn.

  12. I’m all for kids and smart phones. At some point, we have to trust our children to do the right things, responsible smart phone use included.

    In the near future, mobile devices are going to become mainstream learning tools in schools. In fact, in many countries around the world, mobile devices are the only connection to the internet.

    Smart phones aren’t toys, they’re tools. In addition to the uses mentioned by the author, there’s also QR code reader apps, Wolfram|Alpha Computation App, real musical instrument apps, a full blown calendar, note-taking apps, citizen science apps, and tons more.

    Honestly, tons of kids have televisions in their bedrooms and no one gives this a second thought. At least the smart phone is interactive!

  13. well i do think kids do need smartphones but must know if the kid is mature enough to hav 1 i decide that the age to get a smartphone would be between 13 and 15

  14. I think I shall start my child off on an inexpensive prepaid tracfone, on a trial basis, i shall upgrade him to the more desirable smartphone when he starts showing more maturity. He is still pretty young and the prepaid tracfones just makes more sense to my budget.

  15. Even with all this radiation talk, couldn’t your child just use a wired headset or a hands free headset, thus reducing radiation going straight to the head?

  16. Thanks sooooo much for posting this! It was really helpful and now I’ll have a smartphone in no time!!!

  17. I feel as if it is a waste of money rather than a good thing
    Assuming the child is under 10, who would the child be texting or calling? Besides their mom, dad, or other family members what other children would have cell phones
    My cousin who was 9 at the time had a cell phone, pointless; the only numbers she had were: her family, her friend’s home, and Hannafords, the grocery store. My aunt/her mother eventually realized how big of a waste it was and cancelled her plan.
    For this type of situation i think maybe the iPod Touch (new model with camera) would be a better alternative

  18. I think that kids should be able to have smartphones as long as they take care of them and are mature enough to have one. As far as radiation goes, older phones have more radiation than new smartphones. If you’re still not impressed, just have your child use a wireless headset.

  19. I think the platform of the gaming of the smartphone offers a unique variety of games for my child to play. I will buy my 2 month old a new Iphone 6 plus. He is very mature for his age. He cant crawl already:) So I think that my son deserves this phone. I have no idea why my husband left me for susie at work. BUT SUSIE IS A NO GOOD BACKSTABBING BITCH!!!! Anyway thats all from me now. Signing off
    -SingleMomFTW

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