One of the most popular questions we get from friends, family, and readers is, “how old should my child be before I get them a phone?”
Given that smartphones have been around more than a decade you’d think we would have that answer by now. Alas, there’s no age that we can point to that says a child is ready to have a phone.
A recent study finds that more than half of all kids have a smartphone by the time the age of 12, but it’s not uncommon to see children much younger who have their own device. In fact, according to Common Sense, about one in five kids have a phone by age eight.
The more we entertain the topic of children and phones, the more we realize there is an answer. It’s just not related to a specific age.
Maturity should dictate whether your child can handle a phone, not age.
Why does my child need a phone?
A lot of first-time parents assume that they’re having the conversation because their kid wants a phone. This might be the case; however, there are times when it might a phone makes practical sense.
There are plenty of people who believe that their son or daughter needs a phone “because they’re in school now.” The same can be said of children in extracurricular activities or when they begin to stay overnight at a friend’s home.
Here are a number of factors to consider as to why it might be easier if your child has a phone.
- Does your child regularly get rides on the bus or from others?
- Is your child involved in after-school activities?
- Do the child’s parents live in separate locations?
- Does your son or daughter stay home for small periods of time?
If you answer yes to a few of these questions, it might be time to consider giving them a phone. Even if on a part-time or “check out” basis, it could give parents peace of mind knowing that their child is a call or text away.
Likewise, it gives the kid a quick way to contact someone in an emergency or to check in from time to time.
Is my child ready for a phone?
Instead of considering age we should look to responsibility to determine if they’re ready. Ask yourself the following questions. These qualifiers are where you might start when considering the idea of giving your child their first phone.
- Does my child understand that phones cost (a lot of) money?
- Does my child keep track of their belongings?
- Does my child respect other people’s property?
- Can I trust my child?
If you find yourself struggling with a few of these, it might be time to have a chat or two. On the other hand, if you’re confident in answering yes to the questions, we suggest trialing a phone.
As long as your child has a basic understanding of value and respects people and their property, it could be worth exploring the notion.
You’ve decided that it makes sense to introduce another phone to the house, now what? You don’t need to add a new line of service or open a new account. Start small and figure out what the natural boundary is for your child.
Surely, you have an old phone lying around. Consider formatting it and using it as a Wi-Fi device with messaging applications. Observe how your child handles it in the home, in the car, or when out and about.
There are plenty of low-cost prepaid and MVNO carriers who offer service with minimal minutes or data needs. If your phone is unlocked, or can be unlocked, it may be advisable to start with one of these carriers. You can likely find a plan that costs less than $20 that doesn’t require a long-term commitment.
Another way to keep things in line is to limit the amount of usage. Rather than giving your child a phone that’s available at all hours of the day, maybe you want to start with 60 minutes. Perhaps extra time can be earned with homework, chores, reading goals, or other means.
There are a number of great Wi-Fi solutions which give parents the ability to control when a particular device can access the network. Take Eero, Amplifi Instant, or Google Wi-Fi, for instance. These are excellent ways to ensure your son or daughter isn’t up at all hours of the night playing games when they should be sleeping.
Likewise, there are some great apps (Digital Wellbeing) and parental controls (Family Link, Google Play Store settings) that can be enabled which can be used to limit access to specific apps. Maybe you start with unlimited access to reading apps and only 60 minutes of games per day.
This is just the beginning. Both you and your child are new to this and may not always get it right. Be sure to keep an open line of communication between each other.
Every situation is different so don’t try to keep up with others or feel pressured. You might find that your son or daughter ultimately wanted a phone to play games or read. On the other hand, if it’s Instagram, Snapchat or social media that they’re after… well, that’s a whole other topic.