Deciding the appropriate age for your child to get a cell phone is tricky. It isn’t just about picking an age and waiting for the child to get there. It’s more complicated than that. “I tell parents that it’s not so much about a particular age as it is about a kid’s social awareness and understanding of what the technology means,” Dr. Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist and anxiety expert at the Child Mind Institute, explains. “You could have a really immature 15-year-old who’s acting out on the phone, but you give it to him because he’s 15, whereas a really socially mature 12-year-old could handle it better.” This is the case when, for instance, it comes to them avoiding viral stories and being effected by them.
This means that the decision will require some discretion on your part as a parent. A Pew Research survey found that 73% of parents in the US believe it is acceptable for children to have their own phone only after they have reached at least the age of 12 with just 22% thinking it’s alright for a child under 12 to have one. You might take a cue from this survey, but ultimately no one knows your child better than you do. You live with them and have witnessed their developmental milestones, so you should be able to tell if they’re disciplined and socially aware enough to have their own cell phone. The following section outlines and discusses specific things to consider before giving your child their first phone.
5 Things to Consider Before Giving Your Child Their First Phone
Below are a few questions to ponder before giving your child their first smartphone.
- Do they need it? Most children start asking their parents for a phone around the age of 8. They give all kinds of reasons for wanting a phone. As we know there’s a big difference between want and need. If you do decide that there’s a need for a phone, for example moving between parents’ houses or commutes to school, then what specifications should it have? Should it be a family phone or a personal one? Which data plan should they have? Should it have a data plan at all? If all your child wants is to be able to take calls, then it might be fitting to make it a family phone they use at home. You can always upgrade when you think they’re ready for a smartphone.
- Can they take care of the phone? Everyone knows how expensive smartphones are. They are also easy to damage or loss. You can also discuss it with them. If broken who is going to replace it? You need to agree with your child on what will happen if they carelessly misplace or damage their phone. One option is to agree that they’ll need to save up to a certain amount of money from their allowances, which you will then complete to get them another phone. On sites like eBay, you can get a reconditioned iPhone 7 for around $100. This will likely be the first expensive thing they will have they can lose. As a result, it is a great introduction to teaching your child the value of time and money.
- Do they have some social media training? This is a critical consideration. You can’t just get your child a smartphone without sitting down to talk to them about cyber ethics. “I liken it to giving the keys to your kid to a car,” said tech-savvy expert Lori Cunningham, who has a 10-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. “You don’t just give them the keys. You teach them how to use the car. You work with them. You train them. You make sure that they know the pitfalls and things to watch out for, and then you give them more freedom as you go.” Here we have an article on guidelines for our child’s use of social media.
- Will they get addicted? Apps, games, and social media are entertaining and addictive. Screen addiction in children is a real concern. The constant notifications and urge to remain connected at all times prompt users to stay glued to their phones. Many, but not all, adults have mastered the art of ignoring these notifications, but children can easily feel like the world is passing them by. Or feel the pressure always to respond because they don’t want it to seem like they’re ignoring their friends. If your child has previously had issues with being able to control computer game time this may well be a concern. If you are concerned your child is addicted to their screens we give some advice here.
- Do they understand the costs? Getting your child a phone doesn’t end there. You’ll have to pay for monthly data plans, which can cost anything from $20 to $100 every month. And if the child uses more than their monthly data allocation, you’d have to pay for the overage. Then there are the apps and video games with recurring monthly and yearly charges. If your child doesn’t understand these costs, they’ll keep subscribing to these games and apps while you get charged for them every time. So before handing them a smartphone, you may need to have a conversation about costs.
How to Help Your Child Manage Cell Phone Use
Making sure that your child is ready for a phone before getting one is just one part of the job. The other is making rules and keeping an eye on your child’s phone usage. Below are ways to help your child manage phone usage.
- Establish ground rules. Establishing ground rules can help control phone usage around the house. Those rules include switching the phone off during family meals or putting it down when speaking face-to-face with others. You can also agree that phones should stay out of the bedroom after a specific time of the day. We talk about phones in bedrooms here. Also, be open about their monthly allocation for data and calls. Be clear that you’ll not be paying for additional data if they exhaust their monthly allocation. Discipline is important to a constructive relationship with your child.
- Monitor and utilize parental control. Many parents are often conflicted on whether to monitor or let their children have total privacy with their first phone. “This is probably the biggest debate that I hear from parents, that they (children) deserve their privacy. ‘We have no right to do that. They need to have their space,’” Cunningham said. “Well, yeah, they can have their space in their room, and they can have plenty of privacy in there, but when it comes to the phone … it’s no longer their privacy.” Consequently, you need to manage your child’s screen time and what they are doing with it. We have some guidance here on how to set the settings on your child’s phone.
- Model responsible phone use yourself. Parents can make the mistake of never being fully present when they’re with their children. They bury their heads in their smartphones with the justification that whatever they’re doing is important. As a parent, you need to put some of those restrictions on yourself too. Switch off your phone when spending time with your child or during mealtimes. It’s easier to preach responsible phone usage to your child when you’ve been modeling it yourself. We are our children’s biggest role model.
Smoothen Communication Between You and Your Child
Establish ground rules and utilize parental control apps by all means. But you need to be careful not to push your child into keeping secrets. If you threaten to take your child’s phone away at every turn, they may not feel free to come to you when they encounter problems. The child would feel that they’d rather keep a secret than risk losing their phone.
Final Thoughts on What Age Should a Child Get a Cell Phone?
It may seem like another milestone, but deciding when to give your child their first cell phone is a big deal. A cell phone opens your child to a new world they can access readily without your knowledge or permission.
And such a world is very enveloping, always demanding their immediate attention, which can easily lead to cell phone addiction if the child isn’t equipped with the necessary tools and knowledge to help them navigate it. So at what age should a child get a cell phone?
No one knows your child better than you. But whatever age you decide, do make sure you have clear guidance and recommendations.