The other day I came across an article in the New York Times, “What’s the Right Age for a Child to Get a Smartphone?” While reading it I thought about one of my first articles here on Be Web Smart, and thought it might be a good idea to revisit the question.
I first wrote this post back 2011. At the time, I had a 5th grader, and I thought she’d probably get a cell phone in 7th or 8th grade. Now she’s almost 16. She got her first basic cell phone (not a smartphone, just calling and texting) in 6th grade. We gave her a smartphone after 8th grade graduation (one of the last in her class, or so she told us at the time!)
So what has changed in the last four years?
The age when children get their first phone has dropped
According to the New York Times article, children are now receiving their first smartphones at the average age of 10, down from age 12 in 2012. Back in 2012, only 8% of 12-13 years olds owned a smartphone (from a Pew Internet research study on teens and texting).
And if age 10 is the average age that means that some kids have their own cell phone even earlier.
Smartphones overtaking cell phones (non-smartphones)
Another Pew Internet research study from the fall of 2015 found that 68% of American adults had smartphones, which was nearly double the percentage compared to their previous survey in 2011. If these trends continue, it seems reasonable that the now old-fashioned non-smartphones will eventually become obsolete.
This makes sense especially when you realize that the iPhone was first released in 2007, and the Android a few years later. The early adopters who were perhaps college age or young adults at the time are now having children. These parents have known and used smartphones for their entire adult life.
What hasn’t changed since I first wrote about the best age for kids and cell phones is:
There’s still no right answer to this question
Some parents, educators and safety experts feel that it is best to wait as long as possible. Cyberbullying, sexting, fear of missing out, digital distraction, and exposure to inappropriate content are just some of the issues that are compounded by the always-available smart phone. Does your child have the maturity level to handle these potential situations?
Others feel that for safety’s sake it makes sense to give the kids a cell phone in elementary school, or as soon as they start spending time away from their parents. Many parents want to be able to reach their child in case of emergency, and likewise have their child able to contact them. And, there are apps and features that can be used to keep tabs on kids’ locations, which are not available on an old-style non-smart cell phone. Once kids are going out and about without adult supervision, might be about the time where a cell phone (if not a full featured smartphone) might make sense.
Can you afford to get your child a phone?
Smartphones aren’t cheap, and neither are monthly plans, even if you are adding a new phone to your existing plan. Is your child responsible for their stuff? Will they be able to keep track of the phone? What happens if they break or lose it? Will it be replaced and if so, who’s paying? Another good question to ask – is this a want or a need? If this is just a want, maybe you’ll want to revisit in a year or two. I think it’s reasonable for a teen to pay a portion of their monthly plan.
Rules and restrictions can help with the transition
Looking back now that my daughter has a phone, I’m glad we waited until the end of middle school. That worked for us, but every family and ever situation is different. Whatever you decide, I’d also recommend a family media agreement or phone contract is a good way to agree to the rules for a new phone owner. Easier to be strict NOW and loosen the reins over time than have a free for all and then try to set rules after the fact.
Other intermediate steps, if you decide your child isn’t quite ready, would be an iPod touch, or an old phone with cellular service turned, perhaps after a parent upgrades to a new model. Either of these solutions would provide the gradual introduction to texting and apps, as long as a WiFi connection is available. One benefit of this solution is that you can take advantage of built-in parental controls and the many parental control solutions for phones and devices that work by blocking the WiFi signal, giving you the ability to enforce time limits more easily.
What do you think? How young is too young in your family? If your kids have phones already, how did decide when the time was right? Looking back, would you make the same decision? Leave a comment and let me know!