Is My Child Ready For A Cellphone?

In this episode we are going to be talking about the who, what, where, when, how, and why of Cellphones. We will be discussing age appropriateness, cellphone recommendations, setting cellphone boundaries, consequences to boundary breaches, problematic youth usage of cellphones, and third part monitoring and filtering software options.

Resources mentioned:

Our Website: www.thewhitehatter.ca

Our FREE webbook “Parenting In An Online World” https://www.thewhitehatter.ca/book-list

Family Collective Agreement: https://bit.ly/36VVhbi

Sonic Bomb Alarm Clock https://www.sonicalert.com/alarm-clocks

PinWheel Phone: https://pinwheel.com 

iPhone Parent Settings: : https://apple.co/3NviSD0 and  https://bit.ly/2IV2FLz

Android Parent Settings: https://bit.ly/3Pyfqto and https://bit.ly/35RO50s

Boomerang Parenting App: https://bit.ly/3foYHXH 

Gryphon Router: https://youtu.be/tSZtO1Ydj9k

KinZoo: . https://bit.ly/3fpNVjP 

Welcome to the White Hatter parenting in an online world podcast! On this podcast, we are going to take a more holistic approach to online safety in an “enlightening” and not “frightening” way, based facts and not fear. We will provide parents, caregivers, and educators with real-world examples, experiences, and evidence-based research that will help to keep our kids safer emotionally, psychologically, physically, and even socially when they are navigating today’s onlife world. Let’s get after it shall we!

Well…….welcome everyone, Darren with the White Hatter Team and I am excited to be your host, and on this episode we are going to be talking about the who, what , where, when , how and why of Cellphones and our kids. We will be discussing age appropriateness, cellphone recommendations, setting cellphone boundaries, consequences to boundary breaches, problematic youth usage of cellphones, and third part monitoring and filtering software options for consideration

As social media safety experts, advocates, and coaches who present to thousands of parents throughout Canada and the United States, one question we are always asked is, “At What age do you think a child should be gifted a cell phone? We believe this question, although well-meaning in nature, really misses the point because it’s not about the age of a child when it comes to a phone, rather it’s about their social and emotional maturity and impulse control that allows them the ability to own operate and look after a phone without direct parental supervision that matters – no matter if the child is 6 years old or 16. This is especially true if your child struggles with conflict, has poor impulse control, and can’t honour boundaries. As Dr Devorah Heitner, a child safety advocate has stated,
“A birthday milestone, or some far-off date in the future will not ensure your child’s readiness for the responsibility that comes having the entire world a swipe away. Instead, consider independence milestones—ways for your child to demonstrate readiness.
Here are some milestones to consider: can they
Making lunch without help
Walking home from school alone
Spending a brief time home alone
Babysitting a younger child for short windows of time
Riding public transit independently
Organized with homework
If your child is demonstrating independence in several of the above milestones, they could be ready or ready soon. If not, you can consider setting progressive milestones for your child to work towards to demonstrate readiness.”

Often, we are asked by both teens and parents, “is there a legal age in Canada that prohibits the ownership a cellphone?”  To be clear, there is no “criminal” law that applies to this question.  However, contractual civil law does apply specific to the purchase of a cellphone contract.  Given that most cellphone plans require the owner to sign a contract, each province and territory has an age of contractual consent that needs to be met to sign such a document. If your child doesn’t meet the minimum age for signing a cell-provider contract, you will either have to purchase the phone and sign the contract under your name or co-sign your child’s contract.  
In Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan the contractual signing age is 18yrs
And In British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland/Labrador, Nova Scotia, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the Yukon the contractual signing age is 19yrs 
To throw a monkey wrench into what I just said; anyone, no matter the age, can purchase a prepaid cellphone anywhere in Canada. Why? there are no “contracts” to sign specific to prepaid phones. So yes, your 13yr old, if they have the money, can purchase a prepaid phone without a parent’s consent or signature.
If you are listening from the United States, each state has their own age requirement, so make sure to check with your local cellphone carrier.

Just remember, if you sign or co-sign the cellphone agreement you legally own the phone; not your child. If your teen misses or is late on a payment, it could show up in a negative way on “your” credit report.

Again, cell phones are not a right to have, they are a privilege to have when it comes to children, tweens, and teens. When we gift our kids a cellphone, it needs to be made clear that we legally own the phone and are just lending it to them with conditions attached. It is important that parents remove the sense of entitlement that many youths have specific to a gifted cellphone, or other digital devices they may receive.
Although we have personally seen children in grade one with smartphones, which is ridiculous in our opinion except in exigent circumstances. There is no doubt that the power of a smartphone can have a significant medical advantage to a child – as an example, a child who has type 1 diabetes that needs to be closely monitored.
According to the marketing agency “Influence Central”, the average age of youth owning their first cell phone is around 10 years of age. According to the digital literacy group MediaSmarts, 24% of students in the fourth grade own their own phone, and 85% of students in the 11th grade. It has been our experience that a child’s first cell phone is often not a new device, but rather a hand-me-down phone from a parent, who has upgraded to a new smartphone.

Parents, it is important to know that our kids aren’t using their phones just as phones to talk to someone else, they are using their phones to :
Text, send Instant messaging, Accessing Social Media sites, Emailing, Video Chatting, Video Gaming, and using Messaging Apps 
When you as the parent decide that your child is ready for a phone, it is very important that you put in place clear expectations as to how the phone will be used in and outside of the home. This also includes understanding and explaining your child’s school policy about using a phone during school hours. To help, we have created something we call the “Family Collective Agreement” I have placed a link in the description of this podcast https://bit.ly/36VVhbi This agreement should be printed and be included with any the gifted phone
One of our prime directives in our Family Collective Agreement – a phone will not be used privately in a bedroom or bathroom for two reasons #1 – Inappropriate use- when we get involved because something bad has happened on the internet it usually involves a youth with a cellphone, in their bedroom at night, with internet access, unsupervised by a parent. And #2 – sleep deprivation issues. This is a significant issue, in fact in an anecdotal survey that we conducted with teens, we asked the following questions:
“Do you sleep with your phone in your bedroom?”
(78%) stated yes

When we asked – “Do you answer messages on your phone that come through during the night?”
(27%) said yes

When We Asked – “Do you text at night in your bedroom with your cellphone?”
(46%) stated yes

This anecdotal survey of our teen followers was recently supported by a recent 2022 study https://bit.ly/3JTehZk out of Australia that found:
“of 250,000 Australian kids studied, we found 28 percent of eight to 11-year-olds, 57 percent of 12 to 14-year-olds, and 80 percent of those aged 15 and over send and receive messages and calls between 10pm and 6am at least once a week. 

Parent Tip:
Another reason to get cellphones out of the bedroom – when your kids go to bed– many will actually be on their devices, under their covers so that you don’t see the glow of their phone, until all hours of the early morning – something known as “vamping” which is short for vampires given that vampires only came out at night

A second reason to get digital devices out of the bedrooms at night – Notifications such as text and status alerts on a smartphone, or computer, whether audio or vibration, can disrupt sleep and wake children and teens up during the night.

When you implement a no phone in the bedroom rule, teens will push back pleading that they need their phone in their room because they use it as an alarm clock. Here’s an easy fix to overcoming this argument, buy them an alarm clock. The one that we recommend is called the “Sonic Bomb” that you can find on Amazon.
This clock uses a 113-decibel alarm, bright blinking LED lights and comes with a remote bed shaker that vibrates the bed when the alarm goes off.
Now is your teen going to be angry that you will no longer allow them to have technology in their bedroom at night? YES, oh well, that is what makes us parents, and sometimes we parent have to say and do things that our kids are not going to like. That’s what makes us parents. As a friend and family counselor Ginger Henderson shared with us:
“When it comes to online parenting, sometimes being a child’s best friend often only enables less than desirable online behavior. Remember, enabling can often equal damaging behavior. Be your child’s best parent and not their best friend, there is a difference.”
We recommend that phones should be stored, docked, and charged in the parent’s bedroom at night, rather than in a public place like the kitchen, where it can still be easily accessed by your child in the middle of the night without your knowledge. There are a number of phone charging stations that are available on Amazon to meet your family’s specific needs. Also, make sure that the devices are turned off while storing and charging them in your room so that you are not disturbed by notifications that we guarantee these devices will receive at night!
Recently we helped one family where their child was so mad that mom and dad were no longer going to allow them to keep their phone in their bedroom, that the youth programed their phone’s alarm to go off every hour on the hour, and the parent had no idea how to turn the alarm off which kept them awake all night – smart kid!!!

Parent Tip:
it is becoming more common that teens will use a secondary phone in their room, commonly known as a “burner phone”, that the parents don’t know about and often obtained from a friend, that allows your child to access the internet via the home Wi-Fi. This is another reason why we recommend the Gryphon router. If an unknown device attempts to access the WIFI, Gryphon will alert you to this fact, which is a good clue to let a parent know that their child may be using a burner device – especially if alerted just after your child goes to bed. In police we would call this a CLUE

Another question we are often asked – “what type of phinw should be our kids first phone?”
When first learning how to ride a bike, do we buy our children the best and most expensive bike on the market? NO – we often purchase a cheap bike combined with training wheels. Why, because we expect that during the learning process, they are going to drop their bike and have some minor accidents along the way, resulting in the bike becoming scraped and banged up.
The same analogy applies to a cellphone. Cellphone providers purposely make this a challenge by offering the newest iPhone or Android phone for free if you sing up with their mobile service.  The catch, you need to sign up for a very expensive two-year contract.  This is not something we recommend parents do for a child’s first phone, especially for those under the age of 16yrs.
When we ask parents why they want their grade 3, 4, or 5 children to own a smartphone, the number one answer we hear – “in an Emergency, they can call me or I can immediately call them.” We find that often giving a child a cellphone is more about a parent’s convenience and peace of mind in being able to connect and keep tabs on their child 24/7. However, with tech convenience comes vulnerability that “may” place your child at risk if they are not ready to have a cellphone.  If the main reason to gift your child a phone is to connect with them in an emergency, then don’t buy them a smartphone. For youth in grade school maybe think about a child designed smart watch like the Lil Tracker here in Canada, or the Gabb watch in the USA. These youth designed watches look cool, allow the parent to communicate with their younger child via text, cell, or video chat, and many also provide a location tracker.

Another option, buy them a basic cell phone that can call, text, and take/send pictures. A model that we recommend to parents as a child’s first cell phone is the Nokia 3310

Based upon our experience, it is not uncommon that a youth with a flip phone will often be ridiculed by their peers who own actual smartphones. This is a real concern that “some” parents may not understand or even concern themselves with, but it can be a big deal to the child.

As your child starts to show good judgment, and consistent social and emotional maturity with their basic communications watch or flip phone, you can now upgrade them to a basic smartphone. In other words, the digital training wheels that a child smartwatch or a basic flip phone provides, can now be removed.
We always recommend a basic Android phone as a first smartphone over an iPhone, why? because #1 Android phones are usually much cheaper than an iPhone, and #2 the Android phones have a greater ability to allow third party parental monitoring apps to be installed on the phone, which the iPhone does not allow. Over time if your child shows you good judgment, consistent social and emotional maturity, and good digital literacy with their intermediate phone, then they are ready to move into a higher-end and more powerful Android smartphone or iPhone.

Another great option for upper elementary school and middle school students is the PinWheel Phone:
As social media safety and digital literacy advocates, we stay current on the technology that is available to youth, and their family, when it comes to keeping the “onlife” world safer and more secure. In late 2020, we became aware of a new cellphone on the market called the “Pinwheel” – a Link is in the podcast description https://pinwheel.com 
The Pinwheel is advertised to be a child’s
“first phone that grows with your child”. 
What we read about the Pinwheel intrigued us enough to connect with the company directly, to see if they would send us a phone to test and evaluate.  As many of our followers know, we are big believers in, “Don’t tell us something is going to work, show us it works”. Sometimes things that are promised by tech vendors in their advertising, are not necessarily what happens in real life.
After connecting with Pinwheel, they were excited to send us their phone for our testing and evaluation. We must recognize Pinwheel for taking us up on this offer. Even though we stated that we would be brutally honest about our testing and evaluation of their product publicly, they welcomed the opportunity for us to test their phone. It has been our experience that other tech vendors have shied away from this type of critical review when we offered to do so.
Now What about the Connectivity of the Pinwheel in Canada:
Given that we are from Canada, Pinwheel which is a US based company was also very interested if their phone and services would work with cellular carriers up here in Canada. The answer is – “YES” it does. For the test and evaluation of the Pinwheel, we used a SIM card from a Canadian company called “Public Mobile” that piggybacks on the Telus cellular network – Connectivity was seamless with the Pinwheel when we connected with Public Mobile.
Overall, the Pinwheel phone does exactly what the vendor says it does. Like an iPhone, the Pinwheel is a phone that is completely sandboxed and scaffolded with the Pinwheel’s operating system, which is fully controlled by the parent. Yes, it looks and feels like a smartphone, but given the Pinwheel operating system, it’s more like a “smarter phone” rather than a fully functioning smartphone. Think of the Pinwheel as a youth’s first “smarter phone” with training wheels.
We acknowledge that the Pinwheel phone will probably be labeled as a “helicopter parenting” tool by its critics.  Given the ages that this phone is designed for, that being pre-teens and younger teens, we would agree.  However, in some circumstances such a phone would be reasonable and warranted, especially with younger youth. In our opinion, the Pinwheel phone is not designed for older teens who have shown good digital literacy, digital maturity, and learned respect for technology; it’s our opinion that these older teens have often earned the privilege to possess a fully functioning smartphone where appropriate and reasonable to do so.
So what is the Cost of a Pinwheel:
When you factor in the costs of shipping, duty, phone, SIM card, and mobile carrier, a Canadian parent is looking at approximately $417.00 + GST all in for the Pinwheel Rugged phone which we recommend given its superior durability.  There is also a further $19.00 + GST monthly access fee for the Caregiver Portal, which is needed to make the phone function as advertised from a safety, security, and privacy standpoint.
We know that some parents are now thinking, “well, if you are not going to provide your kid with a fully functioning smartphone, why not just buy them a flip phone because they are cheaper than the Pinwheel phone.” We agree, a flip phone is always an option as I have already mentioned, but again we can share with the listener, based upon our experience, it is not uncommon that a youth with a flip phone will often be ridiculed by their peers. This is a real concern that “some” parents may not understand or even concern themselves with, but it is a big deal to the child. In our opinion, the Pinwheel phone does overcome this peer perception challenge.
We were very impressed with the functionality of the pinwheel phone, what it does, and why it was created.  Having said this, we would currently consider this a “premium” phone given its pricing in Canada.  However, as the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for”.  As a parent, if you are looking for a “first phone”, that looks, feels, and functions like a smartphone, provides full parental scaffolded control, and you are willing to pay the costs associated with importing and possessing one here in Canada, then you will likely not be disappointed with the Pinwheel as your child’s first “smarter” phone.  For a more in-depth review on what the Pinwheel phone has to offer check out our FREE webbook where we speak to all the testing we did with this “smarter Phone”
Parents and caregivers need to understand that much like a laptop or desktop computer, smartphones are the keys to the digital highway that allow your child to have full unsupervised access to the Internet, both the good and the bad. Given this fact, we also believe that we should also provide our kids with digital seat belts – also known as parental monitoring/filtering software solutions. Our kids have no right to privacy from us as parents!  Having said this, our kids can earn their right to privacy by showing us parents’ good consistent digital citizenship over time. Once our child can do this, then I recommend that monitoring software be removed because your child has earned that right. We also recommend that parents DO NOT use monitoring/filtering software covertly or in isolation. If a parent is going to install monitoring/filtering software, let the child know. Also, explain to the child that they can earn the right to have this software removed, but you also have the right to place it back on their phone if they breach any clause in the Family Collective Agreement.  Both the Android and iPhone also have their own native parental controls that should be turned on as well – I have placed links on how to do this is the description box of this podcast .
iPhone: https://apple.co/3NviSD0 and  https://bit.ly/2IV2FLz
Android: https://bit.ly/3Pyfqto and  https://bit.ly/35RO50s
Remember, hardware and software are not replacements for good parenting. It is all about age appropriate youth agency, parental modeling WITH OUR Cellphones, combined with parental participation, education, and supervision with our kids, combined with hardware and software solutions where appropriate and reasonable to do so. We need to be our child’s best parent and not their best friend when it comes to keeping our kids emotionally, psychologically, physically, and socially safer, especially at younger ages, in how they are accessing the digital world until such time as they are mature enough to navigate it alone.

Here are some more suggestions:

Suggestion #1

Given that the Android platform allows parents to add third-party parental monitoring and filtering software, we recommend that you now also consider downloading the “Boomerang parenting App” onto their phone, again you can find a link in the podcast description https://bit.ly/3foYHXH  Once you click on the provided link, choose “Purchase Boomerang” to download it onto your child’s new phone.
For both the Android and Apple phones We also recommend, , to further layer parental oversight by considering the installation of the Gryphon Router in your home, combined with their mobile “homebound” app on your child’s phone. A link to the gryphon router will be in the podcast description https://youtu.be/tSZtO1Ydj9k
Suggestion #2
To provide those under the age of 13 with a safer online experience where they can learn how to text, message, and share pictures with other family members and friends, we recommend that you also consider downloading a messaging app called Kinzoo. https://bit.ly/3fpNVjP  We have worked with Kinzoo, a Canadian-based company, and unlike meta’s kids messenger or Whatapp , the Kinzoo messaging app was built by a father with privacy, safety, and security as its foundation. They do not sell or monetize any personal information about its users to any third parties.
And Suggestion #3:
Download and implement our free “White Hatter Family Collective Agreement” again the link is in the description of this podcast. https://bit.ly/3kYXMhQ  This document clearly outlines acceptable and unacceptable use of digital devices, both inside and outside the home. Once read and signed by all family members, this document should be posted in a public place in the home for all to see as a constant reminder.

Now Let’s Talk about Taking A Phone Away as Punishment:
In today’s onlife world, a phone has become the third appendage to our kids, and taking away a phone for bad behaviour is like amputating that third appendage to our kids.  We are not saying that taking a phone from your child is not an option, it is.  What we are saying – choose your battles carefully and don’t treat every situation like a nail and hit it with a hammer.  The hammer is taking the phone away.
If your child was using their phone in a low-level mischievous way, and you take their phone as punishment, what do you think will happen when they are really in trouble online and need help.  Do you think they will come and tell you? Probably not, why? because they are likely fearful that you will over-react and take their phone. Instead, think about an escalating scale like:
first offence – verbal warning.
Second offence – multiple chores around the home for the next week.
Third offence – chores + take their power chord. Now they have to watch the battery quickly drain on their phone without the ability to re-charge. This will drive them crazy!
Forth Offence – chores + take the phone & remove the sim card or replace it with a cheap flip phone which you give them to use for a week.
Fifth offence – chores + no phone.
Again, in exigent circumstances, the taking of a phone is likely warranted. However, if not an exigent circumstance, think about the above noted escalating consequence to actions approach. You may also want to add this incremental scale of consequences to the Family Collective Agreement, thus making it crystal clear what will happen if your child is not being a good digital citizen with their phone.

Now lets talk about Problematic Phone Use:
When it comes to technology it is all about an age appropriate and balanced approach to the onlife world. Too much of anything is never healthy when it comes to a teen’s emotional, psychological, physical, and social well-being.
There are “some” in our industry that likes to push the phone “addiction” narrative.  In fact, there is one social media advocate in Canada that stated publicly that “84.9%” of teens are addicted to their phones, and that
“phones are the most addictive thing we can give a child, more so than cocaine.”
This same person stated giving your child a smartphone is
“like snorting a line of cocaine.”  
There is NO evidence-based peer-reviewed research to support these juvenoic fear-based moral panic statements, NONE!  
So what does good research have to say? One of the best reviews of the current research surrounding the emotional, psychological, physical, and social contraindication to “problematic phone use” comes from a 2021 literature review article from Dr Aviv M Weinstein, and PhD candidate Yehuda Wacks called, “Excessive Smartphone Use Is Associated With Health Problems in Adolescents and Young Adults
In the summary of this literature review the researchers stated the following:
“The excessive use of the smartphone has been associated with impaired cognitive functions and mental health problems. There are unique findings on the association between using smartphones, need of constant stimulation, deficits in everyday cognitive functioning and brain changes which should send alarm signals to clinicians and educators in the modern world.”
After reading the entire article, we agree with these findings with the following 4 caveats:
The word “excessive” is important.  Again too much of anything is never healthy.
The paper makes it clear that its not how much time teens are on their phones, but what are they doing with that time that really matters.
The paper also makes it clear that the contraindications identified are not global in nature with all youth who use phones. and
The paper makes it clear that there are studies showing changes to the brain with the excessive use of technology, but we don’t yet know what the negative or positive outcomes of these changes will be given the neuroplasticity of the brain. This is something that the multi-million dollar  N.I.H. Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study in the US, also known as the ABCD Study, is hoping to identify. https://abcdstudy.org 
Given where we are today with the good evidence-based research, we do believe that “reasonable” moderation and mediation of technology, including the use of cellphones, should be the goal of parents, something which we echo in all our programs

So, what are the takeaways for parents and caregivers in today’s Podcast:
Phones are not a right to have they are a privilege to have

When a phone is “gifted” to a child you are only lending it to them, you legally still own the phone – we need to remove entitlement once a phone is gifted.

Rather than using age as the barometer, Gifting a phone should be based upon the social and emotional maturity and impulse control of your child before allowing them the ability to own and operate a phone without direct parental supervision?

Setting expectations early with your child on the use of the phone and the consequences if those expectations are breached are important, and why our “Family Collective Agreement Can Help”

Chose the right phone for the right age – incremental age appropriate adoption of tech is important from a safety, security, and privacy standpoint – remember these devices are the digital keys to the digital highway

Do not allow a cellphone to be used or kept in the bedroom especially at night, and

be your child’s best parent and not their best friend when it comes to technology, there is a difference. Are your kids going to like some of the strategies that we recommended in this podcast, NOPE! Oh well that’s what makes us parents, and sometimes we parents have to say and do things our kids aren’t going to like – that’s what make us PARENTS!

Remember parents you are not alone on this digital journey, we are here to help – don’t forget to check out our website at www.thewhitehatter.ca and our White Hatter Facebook page where there is a ton of free content to help parents and caregivers parent in today’s online world. As well, on our web site we outline all the programs that we offer to schools, families, youth groups, and even businesses when it comes to social media safety and digital literacy

Stay strong, be that mentor and digital sheep dog, and From the White Hatter Team thank you for listening, and until our next podcast – have a great week everyone.

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