What Age Should A Child Get A Phone?
Deciding when to get your child a cell phone is one of the most important and monumental decisions you will ever make. A cell phone opens the door to much more than just the ability to call family and friends. Today’s advanced smartphones are essentially powerful computers that offer unlimited access to the world in the palm of your hand.
So at what age should a child get a phone? And how can you tell if your child is ready for this important milestone? The answer to this loaded question depends on many factors and will be different for each family and even each individual child within a family.
Why Kids Should Have Phones
We all want to protect our kids from the world as much as possible. Many parents dread the day their child or teenager gets access to their very own cell phone. You may even be wishing you could just put it off forever. At some point though, allowing your children access to this modern technology becomes a «necessary evil».
Emergencies do happen, cell phones help facilitate easier communication, and your kids will be using them in their adult years for everything from online banking to documenting your future grandchildren’s first steps.
If kids don’t learn how to responsibly and properly use a phone under parental supervision and guidance — they aren’t likely to ever learn it on their own. Walking through this milestone together as a family is a good idea. But at what age is it appropriate for children to have cell phones?
Is Your Child Ready for A Cell Phone?
Most experts agree that the ideal age for children to become introduced to this form of technology is between the ages of 12 and 14. However, how mature your child is much more important than how old they are. What one child may be able to responsibly handle at age 10, could be just too much for another child to properly manage at age 16.
The unique circumstances of each home and family will contribute to your decision. If you coparent, frequently send your child alone to afterschool activities or want to foster relationships with long-distance friends and family, these factors may tip the scale in the favor of your child getting a cell phone at even a very young age.
Important Factors to Consider:
- Child Readiness & Responsibility — Are they responsible enough to not lose or misplace their belongings? Phones are expensive. If your child still frequently displays forgetfulness or items constantly get left behind at school, it’s probably not wise to invest in a cell phone just yet. And if your teen is constantly breaking the rules and getting involved in things they shouldn’t — giving them their own phone with unlimited freedom and access to the world may not be the best idea.
- Amount of Activities — Families with older children who frequently attend after-school childcare, sports practices, summer camps and other extracurricular activities without a parent can especially benefit from having the kind of tracking and accessibility afforded by giving their child a cell phone. When you’re often apart and it becomes important to know where your child is at all times — a cell phone is often the answer.
- Cost — Although the packaged family plans popular in recent years can be quite affordable, depending on your provider adding another line may cost you an arm and a leg. And that doesn’t even include the phone! If you’re planning on equipping your child with the latest iPhone, that’s going to run you at least $1,000. While budget options such as prepaid plans and less popular Android phones can bring costs down, you still need to look at your finances together as a family to see whether you can reasonably afford the additional expense. For a large family with multiple school-age children, even the budget options really add up. Compare some of the best plans here.
- Internet Access — Some households, for various reasons, simply do not have internet access. For these parents who still wish to provide their children with access to educational opportunities and communication, having a cell phone just makes sense.
- Family Dynamics — If your family usually sticks together and rarely ventures from the house, that’s quite a different situation than a child whose time is split equally between both parents and 2 different households. When you’re dealing with custody arrangements, being able to reach your child quickly and easily by phone becomes more than a luxury — it’s a necessity.
- Mental Health — Children with tendencies towards anxiety and depression, or those who struggle with ADHD and other special needs will need to be monitored extra closely particularly with social media.
- Outside Relationships — In some cases, denying your child the opportunity to access non-local friends and family may just seem cruel. Maybe you just moved across the country, relocate often as part of military service, or are in the middle of a messy divorce. In these situations, giving your child their own phone is giving them the gift of communication. Fostering relationships with loved ones is crucial to your child’s development. If this is your reason for considering a cell phone, it’s often the most convincing reason of all.
Bad Reasons to Get Your Child A Cell Phone
However, no matter what your child may say and how much they may beg, there are some arguments that are just not a good enough reason to get a cell phone. You want to be sure that your family is agreeing to get your child a phone for the right reasons.
Because «everyone else is doing it» — To cave into peer pressure and silence whining (i.e. «All my friends have one and I’m the only one who doesn’t.») is NOT a good reason to buy your child a phone. Beyond encouraging materialism and peer conformity, it also teaches kids that their parents will just give in to their demands. This only leads to spoiled children and entitled adults later on. On the other hand, practicing patience and working to earn responsibilities such as a cell phone will help build the strong character that kids will need later in life to succeed.
Because they want to surf the internet — It can be tempting to push your kids off by giving them yet another device to entertain themselves with. But all internet access during a child’s formative years should be done at home with supervision and under the watchful eye of parents. Kids who just want a phone to play games or talk with friends online can do so at home via an iPad, desktop or laptop computer. They simply aren’t ready to have unlimited, unmonitored access to the outside world just yet.
So if you’ve thought this through and determined that your family does have valid reasons to allow your child this technological milestone, what can you do to keep a handle on their online activities? Thankfully, with the right teaching and a little bit of help from some innovative apps, parents can keep a close watch on their kids.
- Be sure about kids internet safety: our pick of best parental control apps
Teaching Cell Phone Safety & Healthy Habits
Regardless of how old your child is when you decide to finally bite the bullet and purchase them their very own cell phone, there are some basic rules and guidelines they should follow. Expectations should be discussed upfront and both parents should be onboard with the rules whenever possible.
Screen Time Limits — Ideally, your children will eventually learn how to set their own limits. However, we all know this is something that even adults can struggle with and screen addiction is a real thing. Studies show that excessive cell phone use is bad for your child’s mental health. To assist, parents can install and set up special apps to set password-enforced screen time limits. When the time runs out — the apps stop working.
Responsible Usage — Kids (and adults) should also be expected to follow basic family rules such as no phones during family time, mealtimes and bedtime. In addition, there should be no texting or playing on the phone while driving, in class or at church. Practice what you preach here, parents! In fact, you might even want to consider a «Family Media Agreement».
«Stranger Danger» — This old adage is all the more important online. Never communicate with strangers you don’t know on the internet. Make it very clear to your child that this rule applies to all apps, email, social media, games and texting. They should also know to report any suspicious contact to a parent.
Digital Responsibility — The installation and usage of parental controls is a non-negotiable requirement for many families. Depending on your child’s age, you will want to consider what types of apps you’d like to install on their phone. Many families set the rule that if their child wants a phone — they must allow mom & dad access to their device at all times and/or must allow their parents to install and use monitoring & tracking software. Apps vary from time trackers to GPS locators and text message loggers. Check out some of the best here.
More than 7 million parents worldwide have relied on the Find My Kids app to provide comprehensive tracking and peace of mind to their families. With Find My Kids, you can see your child’s movements on a map, send a loud signal if the child doesn’t hear your call, and even listen to what is happening around them if they don’t answer.
Financial Responsibility — Make sure kids and teens know they should not purchase apps and other items without parental consent. Some families choose to set a budget that kids must abide by. You can also make these items password-protected to avoid unwanted or accidental purchases.
Personal Responsibility — This includes being responsible for their belongings — such a that $1000 iPhone! You may even want to create a rule that if your child permanently loses or breaks their phone — you won’t be getting them another one. Some families prefer to have their child work to earn a new phone if theirs becomes lost or damaged.
Online Safety — Some basic internet safety rules that your child must learn include: never giving out personal information or passwords to anyone online, being careful about sharing photos with others, and not posting anything online that could hurt their reputation or employment chances later in life.
Avoid Cyberbullying — Your child needs to be aware that bullying others online will not be tolerated, and that they should immediately report to you any instances of cyberbullying they either experience or witness.
Alternatives To Smartphones
So what can you do if you determine that your child is just not ready for a cell phone, but you want to be able to track them anyway? Thankfully, today’s innovative companies have come up with a variety of solutions to this all-too-common dilemma. These include GPS watches, child tracking devices and specially designed phones just for kids. Most of these GPS watches and devices also come with emergency voice calling.
Find My Kids is the creator of a line of GPS watches, including one for small children ages 4-7 years old.
Many cell phone companies offer special plans and even devices for kids. Some families prefer to start off with a simple and basic device first and then upgrade their child to a smartphone later on as they prove responsible. Alternatively, you can purchase a smartphone and just not download any apps to it. These are all great options for families considering a cell phone mainly for emergencies.
Deciding when to get a child their very first cell phone is an individual decision that each family will have to make together. That decision will vary based on very important factors such as the maturity of your child and the dynamics of your family. It’s not so much about what age is appropriate for cell phones as it is what maturity level is necessary for responsible use. With careful consideration, watchful supervision and thoughtful discussion, getting your child or teen their first cell phone doesn’t have to be such a scary milestone after all.