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Ask an Expert: Should a fourth-grader have a cell phone?

Q. Is it wise to buy a cell phone for a fourth-grader for Christmas?

A. It’s the 21st century and I know that our kids be able to handle social media (including our feature-rich phones). When any kid is ready for a phone depends on a wide variety of circumstances. I like to approach any decision with questions.

Key questions to ask yourself

Here are a few ideas but you’ll come up with questions that fit your circumstances.

  1. What are my child’s needs? e.g. I need to be able to text where to pick them up from practice and a cell phone would solve many of those issues.
  2. Who would be using the cell phone that I want my child in touch with, e.g. what other kids in his/her class have phones?
  3. Would my kiddo be willing to assess phone use at the end of each month and see how it’s going and what modifications need to be made since this is new for all of us?
  4. Under the category of assessing cell phone use would be what kind of phone would be purchased. The questions then have to be raised about buying apps and possible guidelines there.

I was sitting with my 9-year-old granddaughter hunting for a song on my iPad. We were using a free music/radio app called Pandora. Her choice was random, she knew “Pitbull” and sang occasionally with J.Lo so she chose a track by that performer.

I heard about five words and turned it off. I do believe the kids need to learn to do their own censoring. I explained to her he was singing about a vulgar term for sexual intercourse and it was inappropriate. Social media (and I include cell phones with all the expanded features) can expose our children to concepts without education and support .

Early maps had pictures of dragons around the edges of the flat earth. Often as we seek to give our kids roots and wings we still have to say “not yet There Be Dragons There!”

– Suzanne Lustie, former high school English teacher and department chair and active grandma

Why does the fourth-grader say he/she needs a phone?

If the fourth-grader can provide a thoughtful explanation for why s/he needs one, then it might be a wonderful opportunity for him/her to demonstrate responsibility. This is one of those tough choices that have presented itself as a result of modern technology.

Let’s face it, as adults it’s nice to be able to have access to our children 24/7 if we need to. We can set check-in times, and surprise them with random calls to verify they are where they say they are. We can alert them of emergencies, and they, too, can call us if they are in a jam. It is, without a doubt, a modern convenience.

On the flip side, it’s another electronic distraction that can disconnect us from what’s happening in real time, like a math lesson, or lunch recess. Without a purpose, it’s an accessory that can easily create more problems than it is likely to solve for such a young child.

There are plans that can eliminate some of the worries that may come with a cellular phone, like limited or no texting options. And certainly, no fourth grader needs a data plan.

The most important issue on the table here is the ‘why’ of it. If there is a compelling reason for a fourth grade child to have a cell phone, from either the adult perspective or the child’s perspective, and it can be well articulated, then it’s a smart choice. Otherwise, let them wait until they’re older and can possibly contribute to the cost. Potentially, the acquisition of a cell phone is something to look forward to and could even symbolize a right of passage.

– Kerry Lord, former K-12 teacher and administrator who now serves as a consultant for the National Organization, Educators for Social Responsibility.

Editor’s note: In October, a parent had basically the same question. Get more advice from two other EdNews Parent experts in this post.

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