“Please, please, pleeeeeease! Can I get a phone?”
Sound familiar? Nearly every parent with a child older than 8 has heard this kind of begging. But how do you respond? Should you actually get your child a smartphone? The answer: it depends. Every kid is different. It might make sense to get some children cell phones at eight years old, while others may not be ready until they are in high school. In fact, the average age when children get their first cell phone is around 10 years old. By the time kids are teenagers, 84% of them have their own smartphone.
Before you run out to the closest smartphone retailer, take time to evaluate whether your child is ready for a phone. The questions below will help you think through the responsibilities and safety concerns that come with having a smartphone. You may find that your child is ready for a phone—or definitely not ready.
Why Might You Give Your Child a Cell Phone?
Why do you want your child to have a phone? Why does your child want a phone? These two questions will help you understand whether giving your child a smartphone is a need or a want—an important factor in your overall decision.
Here are a few common reasons parents give their children a phone:
- Parents want to be able to contact their children and know where they are. For example, maybe they are walking home from school by themselves or bouncing between friends’ houses on the weekend.
- Some parents don’t have a landline at home (nearly 61% of families don’t), but they’d like to leave their children home alone. A smartphone gives kids a way to call the parents if they need to.
- Kids belong to clubs or sports teams that communicate via apps or group texting.
- Kids may feel extreme peer pressure when it comes to getting a phone. Being the only kid without a smartphone might make the child feel excluded.
Is Your Child Ready for the Responsibility?
Chances are that a smartphone would be the most expensive item your child has ever owned. Is your child responsible enough to take care of it?
Think about these questions:
- Does your child tend to lose things like homework or library books?
- Has your child had experience with a tablet or computer before? How did that go?
- Can your child handle being independent? Look for independence markers like putting away laundry alone, walking a short distance solo, or babysitting a younger child.
How Will They Handle Dangers, Distractions, and Temptations?
Too often, children have smartphones but aren’t mature enough to know when there’s a problem or what to do when things go awry. When considering a smartphone, parents must make sure their children know about the dangers associated with this 24/7 connection to the world.
Consider whether your child is mature enough to handle dangerous situations, and talk to them about what to do if they arise. Anticipate and make a plan for events such as
- Bullying via text or social media
- Potential predators contacting them through social media or online gaming
- Encountering sexting or pornography
Aside from these outright dangers, many parents have concerns about their children being able to monitor themselves when their smartphone is near. Many experts agree that children under the age of 14 are generally not ready to manage the distractions and temptations that a smartphone introduces. It takes a certain level of maturity to be able to put the phone down. Consider how your child currently manages their time and impulses. The distraction of a smartphone can tend to get in the way of homework or chores, and it can amplify the consequences of impulsive behavior and bad decisions.
Can They Follow the Rules?
Can you trust your child to follow the rules associated with owning a smartphone? You’ll want to provide rules regarding screen time, data limits, and how much access you’ll have to the phone as the parent. Your child will also have to follow the rules at school. Of course, we know that children will eventually make mistakes and break the rules, but it shouldn’t happen often. If you think following the rules will be an issue, your child probably isn’t mature enough to own a phone yet.
Are You Ready?
The questions up until this point have been focused on your child, but you should also ask yourself if you are ready for your kid to have a smartphone. It’s a big responsibility for you, too! Children who have access to technology have the best outcomes when a parent is actively involved.
This means you should be talking to your child frequently about online experiences. What does your child enjoy about having a smartphone? Is anything confusing or does something feel “off” to your child? Is it affecting your child’s sleep patterns or mood? Don’t simply hand over the phone and walk away. Have these conversations and teach your child positive ways to engage with a smartphone.
Blumberg, S.J., Luke, J.V. (2017, May). Wireless Substitution: Early Release of Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, July–December 2016. CDC.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/wireless201705.pdf
Cool Mom Tech. (2019, March 4.) How Do I Know When My Child Is Ready for a Smartphone: 7 Essential Questions to Ask. https://coolmomtech.com/2019/03/how-do-i-know-when-my-child-is-ready-for-a-smartphone-questions-to-ask/
Curtain, M. (2017, May 10). Bill Gates Says This Is the ‘Safest’ Age to Give a Child a Smartphone. Inc.com. https://www.inc.com/melanie-curtin/bill-gates-says-this-is-the-safest-age-to-give-a-child-a-smartphone.html
Heitner, D. (n.d.). Kid’s First Cell Phone: Are They Ready? Are You Ready?RaisingDigitalNatives.com. https://www.raisingdigitalnatives.com/first-cell-phone/
Kamenetz, A. (2019, January 15). Forget Screen Time Rules — Lean In To Parenting Your Wired Child, Author Says. NPR.org. https://www.npr.org/2019/01/15/679304393/forget-screen-time-rules-lean-in-to-parenting-your-wired-child
Shannon, B. (2018, March 28). Is my child ready for a smartphone? WaitUntil8th.org. https://www.waituntil8th.org/blog/2018/3/28/is-my-child-ready-for-a-smartphone