Should your child have their own cellphone? We asked an expert for advice

By Karen Drew - Reporter/Anchor

Chances are it's on the wishlist of a child you know: A smartphone or a tablet. 

But should a digital device be something a parent gives for Christmas? We went straight to an expert for advice on this controversial topic among parents. She told us right from the start that children need to earn the privilege of owning a smartphone, and that needs to be made clear.

And, if you -- the parent -- do decide that the holidays are the right time to give them that phone or tablet, then there is an even more important gift that needs to go along with it: Training. 

"I feel like we kind of hand these things over as Christmas gifts but, again, if the training's not there, they fall into some patterns that they can't get out of," said Katey McPherson. 

McPherson is an expert on children and digital use. She travels the country educating kids and adults on the topic. 

"I think that kids need to earn the privilege of having a device of any kind -- iPad, iTouch, whatever it is," she said. "So for me, grades have to be in line, emotional regulation has to be in line, and behavior, both at home and at school, has to be in line before they even get to use the device."

McPherson said there is no arbitrary age for when a child might be ready for a smartphone. 

"It really really depends on the child," she said. "I know a lot of 13-year-olds that can handle it, and a lot that can't. So you really have to know how your child is wired when you give access. And then again, you as a parent have to be dialed into what the platform is capable of doing because all of them can be used for good, and all of them can be used for bad."

And, as for letting kids use social media:

"There's not just one appropriate age, but if I were to pick an age of social media access, I don't think anybody under 13 or 14 can handle what's on those platforms," said McPherson. 

It's all about training. 

"They have to know the dangers and they have to know the safety procedures," she said. "They have to know that sharing body parts is a crime. That's a weekly, ongoing conversation about this -- what's new, what's out there, this is what to be careful of. Parents supervising platforms and really just pointing out, you know, maybe this picture is a little bit provocative, maybe you should think about posting something that's more appropriate."

Work with your child to set limits for device use. Together, come up with what you both think is fair based on age. 

  • McPherson also recommends a central charging station at night to ensure the phone is not in the child's bedroom.
  • Parents also should check the phones -- not every message, but enough so that you're getting a finger on the pulse of how your child is doing and how their friendship group is behaving.

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