Kids as young as 5 are carrying smartphones because their parents want to keep up with them.
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Smartphones are popular with teenagers but they’re also one of the most asked-for gifts by kids as young as 5 years old. Parents have a tough time saying no because their friends are getting iPhones and Android devices at an early age. Parents are also tempted to buy the phones because they want or need to stay in touch with their children. As we’ve learned over the past several weeks, smartphones and social media and being always ‘connected’ can be damaging to children and their ability to socialize and learn.
So what’s the answer?
Maybe it’s a dumb-phone. You remember those from the 90’s don’t you? The flip-phones we all used in the days before YouTube, Facebook and staying connected to the internet when we were out of the office or home. Carriers and manufacturers call them ‘Feature Phones’ which is a misnomer since there are limited features on them.
The most important features for parents of young children are there. Calling and texting. They’re very affordable as well, many of them costing less than $40 or a few bucks a month on a service plan.
AT&T has some in stores for as little as $3 a month. Kids will have their own phone numbers and can text anyone. The phones also have web browsers but you remember how slow that was 20 years ago. It still isn’t fast enough to browse the internet or upload photos to SnapChat or Instagram.
Another smart option is a selection of what I’d call “semi-smart watches”. Gizmo watches cost around $150 and can be added to a wireless plan for as little as $5/month. These watches can send a text to mom using Gizmo emoji, or your kids can send a voice-text by tapping a button. They can call up to 10 contacts and it will track their steps. GPS is built in the watches so mom and dad can find them on a map.
Tanya McPherson gave her two kids, Bella age 10 and Jack age 7, Gizmo watches for Christmas. She said she would prefer they not be connected to any device at their age but she and her husband felt it was necessary. “We don’t want to be naive in the times that we’re living in and not have any kind of tracking or communication with our kids,” she said. “They can press a button and say ‘I’m getting on the bus now,” and it’ll send me a voice message because they can’t type out the words.”
Bella, of course, wanted an Apple Watch or iPhone for Christmas and it was difficult for Tanya to stick to her guns and say no. “But we’re not everybody,” she explained. “This is us and this is what happens in our house. I’m not here to be liked by my kids. I’m here to keep them safe and know where they are.”