Added to the age-old conundrum of when to give your child the car keys for the first time, is a 21st-century parenting question: At what age should a child have his or her own smartphone?

This is a tricky situation. You might be a parent who simply got tired of your child asking to use your phone. Or maybe you caved to pleas of “But all the other kids in my class have one!”

But does your child really need a smartphone? It could do more harm than good.

A student with a smartphone has instant access to other students, 24/7. Those students, in turn, have access to your child. They might all be wonderful, sweet kids, with little negative intent. However, mix undeveloped brains still learning how to appropriately communicate with other human beings, and it can be a recipe for disaster.

MPA has digital citizenship and character education technology lessons in its curriculum. Schools, however, can only do so much to negate the ongoing smart phone social dilemmas.

Can you picture yourself as a child — as well behaved as you might have been — with minimal self control, getting mad at someone, and instantly posting your vengeful feelings for the world to see? Or in a moment of attention-seeking, posting something for shock value?

I was a nice kid, but I am relieved that this level of communication was not available to me. Why are we trusting kids today with this responsibility? Why wouldn’t they utilize this tool for its ultimate, often negative potential?

As Morgan Park Academy’s school counselor, I have experienced this technological misery through many students in my office, when a smartphone has woven itself into the theme of a conflict. On the tame side, a student might innocently type a text in ALL CAPS to a fellow student. And let me tell you, this text can be the topic of conversation and anguish for days.

Worse, a student might have been encouraged to send an inappropriate photo of themselves privately to a friend — and days or months later, it has been viewed by everyone in their grade. “Never my child,” you say. Until it is.

Finally, mental health advocates now say smartphones might be connected to a rise in youth depression, suicide, and ADHD.

If you still insist that your kid needs a phone, merely so that you can get in touch with them, get them a flip phone.

Recommended Reading:

Your Modern Family: The Truth About What’s Hurting Our Kids

Science Daily: Third and Fourth Graders Who Own Cell Phones are More Likely to be Cyberbullied

New York Times: What Age is the Right Age to Give a Child a Smartphone?

NPR: Smartphones are Making Our Kids Unhappy

By Jennifer Stec

Ms. Stec is our school counselor.