Deciding when and how to give your child a cellphone

When is the right time to get your child his or her own cellphone?

The answer is different for every child, and the decision does not end with buying the phone and handing it over to the child.

"The important thing is to start slowly and set expectations from the beginning," said Jacqueline A. Rhew, clinical consultant and community liaison at Amita Health Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital Hoffman Estates. "Sometimes we give children too much too soon."

Rhew recommends starting with a basic phone that has parental controls. Give the child permission to call a limited group of people, such as parents, grandparents, caregivers, etc.

Limit the time the child can spend on the phone. If the child complies with those restrictions for a while, the child can earn additional time and access to other features.

"The earlier you set limits and expectations, the better," Rhew said. "Review the phone together, and add features as the child shows he or she can handle them."

It is easier to add features than to take them away, she said, adding, "Some parents get into a power struggle with their child over phone use."

Parents should review all the phone's features with the child, recognizing that the child might know more about the apps on the phone than the parent does.

Discuss the importance of understanding how to use the phone and its features responsibly. For example, talk about the need to respect people's privacy by not texting photos or other material that might embarrass another person. Discuss what is appropriate and inappropriate communication, and talk about what your child should do if he or she receives a photo or text that is inappropriate or bullying.

Set limits for yourself about when you contact your child. Rhew recommends against texting your child during the school day except in an emergency.

"Unlimited communication with your child can lead to anxiety on the part of parents," she said.

In addition, if you are constantly texting or calling your child and asking how the day is going or how he or she is doing, you can give your child the impression that you are available to solve any problem, from failing a test to a dispute with a classmate. Children will benefit from learning to manage stressors and day-to-day issues on their own.

Finally, Rhew urged parents to make sure children don't spend excessive amounts of time on their phone playing games, texting, etc. It is possible to become addicted to electronics, she said. Plus, kids need to have a variety of experiences and interactions.

Remember that your child still needs to communicate in the old-fashioned way - and that includes communicating with you. Rhew said children often complain that their parents spend too much time on their phones or tablets.

"Make sure your kids still have face-to-face interactions," she said. "Adolescents and children need interaction with adults and with peers where technology is not involved."

• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Amita Health, which is comprised of 19 hospitals and more than 230 sites of care, including Amita Health Alexian Brothers Women & Children's Hospital, Hoffman Estates. Amita Health has 900 providers in its medical groups, more than 26,000 associates and 7,000 physician partners and serves over 6.6 million residents in the greater Chicago area. For more information about Amita Health's programs, locations and services visit

Jacqueline A. Rhew
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