How do smart parents determine the best time to give their child a smartphone? Is the “Wait Until 8th” approach best, or should the decision be based on factors other than age? No matter where you land in the debate, one thing is certain – smartphones are here to stay, and parents need to be informed and intentional about when they give their child a smartphone.
Why Give Your Child A Smartphone
If your child is an eight- to twelve-year-old “tween,” your children likely already have friends with smartphones. In a 2021 survey, Common Sense Media reported 43% of tweens and 88% of teens have their own smartphones. These statistics certainly play into the social pressure to give your child a phone, but social pressure does not explain all of it.
When we spoke to parents about why they gave their tweens and teens smartphones, the overwhelming response was to keep track of their location. By middle school, kids are spending more time away from their parents, and Dad and Mom want to know they are safe. Built-in GPS or apps like Life360 help parents give their kids independence without worrying where they are.
Similarly, parents want their kids to have a way to contact adults in an emergency.
If your 8-year-old bikes to school, what will she do if she gets a flat tire? What if soccer practice is cancelled and your son needs to be picked up early? So much of parenting is giving our kids the tools they need to navigate difficult situations and offering them a safety net when things go awry.
Finally, parents want their kids to learn how to set good boundaries with technology while they are still young. Smartphones are part of everyday life, and kids should learn how to use them wisely, including limiting screentime and setting a budget for in-app purchases. The thinking goes – it is better to teach kids a healthy way to use their phones while parents still have influence and parental controls, rather than set them loose with no restrictions later.
Why Wait To Give Your Child A Smartphone
While there are some clear benefits to giving your child a smartphone, there are also some serious drawbacks. Wait Until 8th is an Austin-based organization that focuses on supporting parents’ decision to wait until 8th grade to give kids smartphones. The organization cites cyberbullying, impaired sleep and increased anxiety and depression as just a few of the drawbacks to early cell phone usage in kids. Other effects include addictive brain responses, reduced cognitive capacity and even a premature thinning of the cerebral cortex.
Most of these drawbacks manifest after excessive screentime and social media use. While most smartphone models allow parents to block or limit time on apps and/or shut their phone down at a specific time, tech-savvy kids can find ways around these restrictions.
Many parents also worry that their kids will be exposed to inappropriate or harmful content through their smartphones. The internet is a big place, and kids can stumble upon pictures, videos or other content they are not mature enough to handle.
The Best Age for A Smartphone
No age can be deemed the “right” age to give kids their first smartphones, but most experts agree that waiting until at least 8th grade, or around 14 years old, is best. The decision should be based on your family’s needs and your child’s maturity. Here are some questions to consider before handing your kids their first smartphone.
- Are they responsible with their things, or do they lose them easily?
- Are they easily distracted by technology?
- Do they struggle with screentime limits?
- Do you often wish you could track their location or be in contact?
- Is there a smartphone alternative, such as a Gabb watch or Light Phone, that would fit your needs?
When you are ready to give your children their first smartphones here are some topics to discuss with them.
- Parental Controls: Screentime limits, blocking apps, calls, and texts and reading your children’s’ text and social media messages are ways you can put safeguards around your children’s smartphone usage. Make sure they know what parental controls you plan to use, and why.
- Password Sharing: Your children should share their phone passwords and the passwords to any apps they use.
- Budget: If your children play games on their smartphones discuss a budget for in-app purchases.
- Social Media: What does healthy social media use look like? Which apps are acceptable and at what age?
Consider writing a smartphone contract outlining the rules your family has for smartphone usage, and the consequences for breaking those rules. Remind your child that having a smartphone is not a right, it is a privilege, and they need to use it responsibly.
Finally, remember you are setting an example with the way you use your smartphone. Don’t expect your child to follow a rule like no phones at the table when you are answering an email in the middle of dinner. When you model good behavior, it is easier for your kids to follow suit.
Cathernie Michalk is a native Austinite, writer and mom of three. You can follow her family’s adventures at www.catherinemichalk.com