What’s the right age for parents to get their child a cell phone?
Your friends say one thing, and Bill Gates says another. So when should your child get their first phone?
Here is a compilation of expert studies, leading tech industry statistics, and the top results from Google to give you this ultimate guide to answering the ultimate question: when should I get my child their first phone?
Is your child ready for their first phone?
As your child’s parent, you are going to have the best information about your child (of course). So start with what you know.
Ask yourself the following questions about your child or children. Really take some time to think about these questions. Include your partner and any other important people in you family’s life to help you with this part.
- How often does your child lose things?
- What responsibilities does your child already have, and do they handle those responsibilities well?
- How does your child do with screen time already? (Ie: movies, videos, tablets, etc)
- Does your child know what to do if they see something inappropriate?
- Are there any other things specific to your child that you need to consider: ADHD, mental health diagnoses, problems with social cues, etc?
Once you have answered these questions, you will probably have a consensus.
But, don’t stop here. Involve your child. Include them in the conversation. This step is pertinent regardless of what decision you make regarding your child’s first phone. Here are some questions to ask your child to include them in the conversation about their first phone:
- Why do you want a phone?
- What will you do if you lose or break your phone?
- What are 5 places it is not okay to use your phone?
- What are some concerns about you getting a phone?
This last question is especially important. Their answer allows you to see how your child comprehends and processes your concerns. Their answer can also show if you have clearly shared enough of your position. Use this time to talk openly about those concerns. You can also take a device safety quiz to how protected your child will be online (you can think about your future answers for this quiz).
Other questions to consider for your child’s first phone
After including your child with the above questions, investigate these logistical concerns:
- Can you support another phone on your data plan?
- Can you support your child’s behavior changing with increased screen time?
- Can you support your child if they get hurt due to cyberbullying, seeing porn, etc?
Evaluate not just the money aspect of a phone, but the time aspect. That is, the time you will have to dedicate as a parent when you child undoubtedly changes with the addition of their first phone in their life. Because your child will change. Don’t believe so? Here are some myths that have been debunked by experts.
Myths about a child’s first phone
Myth: my child needs a phone because we need to stay in touch
This is a common concern with parents. It isn’t a myth, per se, but your solution doesn’t have to be to get your child a smart phone with all the bells and whistles. Thoughts to consider:
- Get a non smart phone
- Flip phone
- Gabb Phone – A safe, therapist-backed kids phone
- Pinwheel Phone – The first purpose-built kids mobile OS and smartphone that teaches healthy tech habits
- Relay Kids Phone Alternative – Phone alternative with calling capability without the Internet access
- Track your child’s phone usage and limit their time/content
You may be surprised to find out from Common Sense Media’s study that the vast majority of young people don’t use tools to track their screen time—nor do their parents.
Myth: my child needs a phone because they won’t have any friends otherwise
This is a true myth and true lie.
Qustodio says on their blog: “Kids who don’t get smartphones until they are ready have much better relationships with their peers and with adults. In fact, they suffer more from social exclusion than from being unable to communicate with others.”
Myth: My child doesn’t have a “problem” so they won’t have a problem with a phone (ie: cyberbullying, porn, sexting, etc)
Have you heard this before: “My child would never do that” or “That wouldn’t even happen to my child”. But then we see those same parents be hit with the reality of those statements. You can read the top statistics about cell phones that surprised us.
As a parent, we usually feel like things will happen to other people, but not to us, not to our kids. But the truth is that putting a phone in your child’s hand exposes them to risky behavior. Risky behavior does not discriminate on race, age, culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, location, or well, anything.
Experts weigh in on age for child’s first phone
Studies on Child’s First Phone
Common Sense Media did an extensive and beautifully designed study in 2019: The Common Sense Census – Media Use By Tweens and Teens.
Their study says by age 11, 53% of kids have their own smartphone, and by age 12 nearly 70% do. (Common Sense)
This number has increase significantly even in just the past few years. This graph shows the increase in smartphone ownership by age from 2015 to 2019.
So, here we are again:
- Should a 10 year old have a phone?
- Should a 7 year old have a phone?
- What about my child?
Experts Weigh In on Child’s First Phone
If you are hoping to find specific answers to specific age groups, Today’s Parent has experts weigh in on those age groups: Experts weigh in on ages for child’s first phone.
Other organizations like Wait Until 8th encourage and empower parents to say yes to waiting for their child to reach 8th grade before giving them a cell phone.
But truthfully, we love what these experts have to say:
David Anderson, a senior director of national programs and outreach at Child Mind Institute in New York, has a refreshing take: The problem is not that phones are inherently unsafe, it’s that “they displace some of the things that are really important for any child’s development.” he says. A child ready for a phone should already have other habits and support systems in place, he says: good school performance, a steady homework record, extracurriculars, face-to-face interaction with friends, plenty of family time without screens, plenty of non-screen-based activities and a healthy sleep routine.
“You know your child better than anyone else,” says Michael Rich, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital. “All 13-year-olds are not the same. There’s some who can handle social media and there’s some 23-year-olds who can’t. It’s really a matter of parenting your kids in the digital space just as we parent them in the physical space.”
So go back to the top of this page, ask those questions, and spend some time with your child! We have some interactive conversation starters you can try with your young children to discuss technology.
Ready to buy your child’s first phone?
If you have thought about the decision and you’re ready to buy, think about and answer these questions FIRST, before your child has their first phone.
- F – Facilitate – start this conversation. Make sure you talk about all of these questions BEFORE phone is purchased. Consider signing a digital media contract.
- I – Intervene/Investigate/Involve – let your child know that you can intervene at any time with their phone. Let them know that by purchasing them this phone, that you own it, and you can take it away/limit use/etc if they are not using it responsibly.
- R- Responsibility – how will your child show you they are responsible. What happens if they are not responsible with their phone? Set clear guidelines NOW.
- S – Safety – have you talked about boundaries to set with others, things to not respond to, how to ask for help.
- T – Time – how much time will you allow your child to spend on phone? How will you monitor this. What happens if they are becoming addicted to their phone? How will you spend time with family without phones? Dinner is no phone zone and first person to look at phone has to do the dishes.
We are confident with these thoughtful questions, including your child, and asking yourself is my child ready for their FIRST (acronym) phone, you will make the right decision for your child and your family.
Lastly, model your family values. If you need help honing in on your values, we have a resource for you.
There are also many creative ways to “make your family values stick”, as this article lists.
If you enjoyed this article, you can continue to learn and explore by viewing all of our Parenting Tools.