At What Age Should a Child Get a Phone?

By Jessica Jackson
February 2, 2023
child near blank signs looking at phone with like and love icons

Getting a young child their first phone is a big decision. And naturally, parents will have a lot of questions—is it too soon? Do they need it? Are they responsible enough? Is it safe at this age? What age should a child get a phone?

There are a lot of benefits to your child having a phone. They can reach you when they’re at a friend’s house, they can call you if practice ends early, and they can call grandma directly to tell her that mom still hasn’t figured out how to make her cinnamon rolls. 

Then on the other hand, you get so many warnings and dangers that you might think you’re harming your child if you give them a phone too soon. So, what’s the right age?

Average Age for a Child's First Cell Phone

Are you hurting your child by giving them a phone early? The research is mixed. According to a study conducted by Stanford Medicine, there isn’t a correlation between when kids get their phones and their overall well-being. The study also found that the average age children get a phone is 11.6 years old, and the average age range is 10.7 to 12.5 years old.

But a recent global study found the opposite.

So while studies are still being conducted, your decision will depend on your child and your family’s beliefs.

Reasons a Child Might Need a Phone

You probably wonder why a young child would need a phone. It's more common to hear about the negatives, so you might be surprised at how many scenarios there are when a phone makes sense:

  • They walk home from school or a friend’s house often, and you need to be able to track their whereabouts or for them to be able to contact you
  • Your child is in after-school or extracurricular activities, and you need to be able to contact them if you’re running late or someone else is picking them up
  • Your child is in charge of watching your other children, or they babysit and need a way to contact you quickly

Pros of Giving a Child a Phone

Of course, giving a child a phone has pros and cons. First, let’s start with the good:

  • Safety. Having direct contact with your child no matter where he/she goes is important. In today’s world, you can’t be sure everyone and every place is safe, so giving your child a way to contact you in an emergency or you being able to track their whereabouts is important.
  • Teaches responsibility. Kids know that phones are expensive. Giving them a cell phone gives them something valuable to be responsible for, which can teach important lessons. Teaching your child to take care of the phone, not lose it, and use it responsibly can help him or her make mature decisions.
  • Parental connections. Most smartphones have a way to link the parent’s phone to the child’s. This helps you directly control what your child can and cannot do on the phone, and also helps you keep closer tabs on them via location tracking, etc. You can even set screen time limits or block specific apps and websites. 

Cons of Giving a Child a Phone

Understanding the downsides of giving a child a phone is important too. They include:

  • Keeping up with the Joneses. If you get your child a phone because everyone else has one, you aren’t teaching them to make their own decisions and not worry about everyone else. And when their classmate gets the newest version that just hit stores, all of a sudden the one they have might not be good enough. 
  • They are expensive. Phones are costly, and if your child loses or breaks it, the cost is even higher. It’s a big responsibility to give children; if your child isn’t ready, it can be disastrous.
  • Access to unwanted content. If you aren’t careful, your child may access content you don’t want them to see. You must be regularly reviewing their phone use and limiting what they can access to keep them safe.
  • Marketing influx. The apps that kids like to be on tend to be marketing machines. When kids have a steady stream of ads and influencer content, they may start asking for trendy items that they wouldn’t normally be interested in.
  • People with ill intentions. Between scams, catfishing, and predatory interactions, having a phone can open up your children to unwanted attention. There are ways to safeguard your children, but having a phone does open them up to potential problems. 

How do you Know your Child is Ready for a Phone?

No two children are the same, but here are some signs your child is ready for a phone:

  • Your child is showing signs of maturity and independence 
  • You can trust your child to share the passwords with you and allow you to check the phone often
  • Your child obeys basic rules around the home, such as bedtime or turning the TV off after enough screen time
  • Your child can agree to your terms and conditions of owning a phone

Signs your Child Isn’t Ready for a Phone

If your child exhibits any of the following signs, they may not be ready:

  • Your child is impulsive and makes decisions that aren’t in their best interest
  • Your child constantly loses things and blames everyone else for it
  • Your child routinely defies basic household rules, and there’s frequent disagreement around behavior especially as it relates to safety
  • You worry about your child being too distracted by more screen time

Final Thoughts

There’s no right or wrong age to get your child a phone. It depends on your child’s maturity level, ability to handle such an investment and your child’s activities that might warrant getting a phone much sooner than others. Don’t base your decision on what other families do, but on what you and your family value and need for peace of mind.

daughter looking at dad at kitchen table while holding phone

When weighing the pros and cons of getting their child a phone, some families just throw up their hands and declare they’re better off waiting until their child is in high school. Or college. Or never. 

Between including the perils of social media, the toxicity of group text threads, and the risk of online predators, abstaining from getting your child a phone is a perfectly valid choice. But when you throw things like two working parents, after school activities, and driver’s licenses into the mix, it can be easy to see why the no-phone route might not work for every family. 

If you’re looking to get your child their first device, but aren’t ready to do the smartphone thing just yet, it might be time to consider the humble flip phone for kids. 

Can you get a flip phone for kids?

Absolutely. Flip phones have been dubbed “dumb phones” in a nod to their more high-tech counterpart, the smartphone, but don’t write off these simple devices as mere relics of the past. 

The humble flip phone is making a comeback, meaning not only are there plenty of great options to choose from, but you may even be able to convince your kid that it’s actually cool. 

What age should a kid get a flip phone?

On average, kids get their first phone at 11.6 years old. But average may not be right for your child. When weighing what age your kid should get a phone, it’s important to consider your family’s unique circumstances. 

For example, if your child walks home from school by themselves or babysits younger siblings after school, they may need a phone sooner than a peer who gets picked up everyday by a parent. 

While it’s a good idea to delay giving kids devices, you should opt for whatever works best for your family’s needs.

Flip phone vs. smartphone: What is the best starter phone for a child?

Like the age question, the best starter phone for your child depends on a few factors. For younger kids, especially ones who aren’t ready for social media yet, a simple flip phone with only texting and calling capabilities is a great way to keep in touch with parents or use in an emergency. 

On the other hand, a teen who’s just started driving might need access to navigation apps, and you might want the ability to track them using GPS. Some families even choose to give their child a smartwatch as a starter device so they can text their parents and make short phone calls to approved contacts. 

You might decide what your child is ready for now, and then upgrade them as they age and their needs grow. This is a good strategy for gradually increasing their communication freedom and responsibility. 

Best flip phone for kids

With so many flip phones out there, it can be hard to know which one is right for your child. Here are a few solid options to choose from. 

Nokia 2780

nokia 2780 flip phone for kids

If you’re looking for a simple phone for your child, you can’t get much simpler than the Nokia 2780. While this phone is able to connect to the internet, you can turn off WiFi and mobile internet or call your provider to have the feature disabled. 

Jitterbug Flip 2

Jitterbug Flip 2 flip phone for kids

Although the Jitterbug Flip 2 is marketed for seniors, the GPS tracking, emergency response feature, and agents who can help look up directions make it a solid choice for kids as well. 

Tracfone TCL Flip 2

Tracfone TCL Flip 2 flip phone for kids

If you’re interested in a prepaid phone for your child, consider the Tracfone TCL Flip 2. Like the Nokia 2780, it stands out for its simplicity, but the camera quality is better on the Tracfone. 

Kyocera DuraXV Extreme

Kyocera DuraXV Extreme flip phone for kids

Although it’s on the pricier end, the Kyocera DuraXV Extreme is virtually indestructible. If your kid tends to drop their stuff, you might save yourself money in the long run by getting them a phone that won’t need replacing because they break it. 

The bottom line

Getting your child a phone can help with communication and safety. If they’re not ready for a smartphone yet, flip phones are a great, minimalist option for kids who are just getting introduced to the responsibilities of having their own device.

Teen boy in bedroom looking toward window

Suppose you check your child’s phone or get an alert from your monitoring app and learn they’ve been messaging friends about drugs or looking at drug-related content online. You've discovered drug content on your child's phone, but you’re probably at a loss of what to do next. Read on to learn how to spot red flags, what to say when you talk to your child, and steps to keep them safe. 

Red flags for drug content on child’s phone

You may not think that your child would ever interact with drug content, but the reality is that it just takes two clicks for kids to find drugs online. Drug dealers use social media and online storefronts to sell controlled substances — which can lead to fatal results. Around six in 10 fake prescription pills sold online contain deadly doses of fentanyl, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Here are some red flags to watch for on your child’s phone: 

Emojis 

Drug culture has made use of emojis to communicate covertly about substances. Drug emojis might show up in messages or on social media profiles, signaling the sale and distribution of certain drugs without tripping social media filters. Click here for the DEA’s list of drug-related emojis. 

Frequent messages to an unknown number

If your child is messaging with an unknown number, especially if it’s been anonymized, it’s possible they’re communicating about obtaining drugs. Look at the content of the messages for drug terms or slang or references to meeting up in-person.  

Search history 

Look at your child’s search history for drug terms. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re using them — it could be nothing more than teenage curiosity — but regardless, it’s worth a conversation. 

Other signs of drug use

If you find red flags of drug use on your child’s phone, you may notice other signs as well, such as: 

  • Problems at school like skipping class or a drop in grades.
  • Physical signs such as red eyes or chronic nosebleeds.
  • Behavioral changes, including excessive effort not to let others into their room or an uncharacteristic lack of motivation. 
  • Changes with friends, such as breaking away from childhood friends or hanging out with older kids. 
  • Money issues like requests for cash with no reason given or valuable items gone missing from the home.
  • Odors of marijuana, cigarettes, or alcohol on your teen’s clothes, breath, or belongings. 
  • Drug paraphernalia (such as pipes, rolling papers, or miniature spoons) in their room, backpack, or car. 

How to talk to your child about drug content on their phone

Talking to your child about drug content on their phone is likely to be a hard conversation. But it can be a productive one with the right approach. Here are some tips: 

Trust your gut

You don’t need hard evidence that your child is using drugs to start a conversation. If your instinct tells you something is up, it’s time for a chat. 

Align with your co-parent 

The first conversation should be with your child’s other parent or caregiver to get on the same page with your approach. 

Remain calm

Try your best to remain calm when you talk to your child. Reacting from a place of extreme emotion is likely to shut down the conversation, when what you really need is open communication.

Emphasize your goal is to keep them safe 

Remember that underlying everything is your love for your child and your desire to keep them safe. Let that anchor you, and be clear with your child that their safety is your number one goal. 

Try to identify the underlying issue 

Figuring out what led your child to use (or consider using) drugs will help inform your response. Here are a few possibilities: 

  • Peer pressure
  • The desire to fit in 
  • Self-medicating
  • To show independence 
  • Testing boundaries 

Monitor your child’s phone for drug content

A growing number of experts agree that parental monitoring is an important part of keeping children safe in the digital era. “Parental monitoring” means taking steps to supervise, guide, and protect your child online and offline.

Here are some options for monitoring your child’s phone for drug content:

Parental controls 

Use the parental controls available on your child’s device and on apps or social media sites they frequent. This can help prevent your child from accessing drug content in the first place.

Monitoring service

There are tools that can help you supervise your child online. BrightCanary is a monitoring app that uses AI technology to scan your child’s text messages, YouTube and Google searches, and social media activity. The app will alert you to concerns (like drug content) so you can address them. 

Check-ins

Make it a point to routinely sit down together to look at their device. Regular tech check-ins not only help you keep an eye on your child’s online activity, but they also help establish open communication. 

Getting help for your child 

Once you’ve figured out the severity of the issue, and hopefully identified the underlying cause, it’s time to turn your attention to supporting your child. 

Substance abuse resources

Findtreatment.gov, SAMHSA’s free helpline, or your child’s pediatrician can help connect you with resources if your child needs help quitting drugs.  

Mental health resources 

If mental health issues led your child to use drugs, or if they need help with self-esteem or social-emotional issues, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a teen and young adult helpline that can be accessed through phone, text, or chat. Findtreatment.gov and your child’s pediatrician are also good places to start. 

Quick resources

Closing thoughts 

Regularly monitoring your child’s phone can help you spot any red flags that they may be involved with drugs. If you find any warning signs, there are steps you can take to address the issue and keep your child safe. 

Tech CEO working at computer

They’re responsible for creating the technology and platforms that keep us glued to our screens, but how do tech CEOs and founders manage screen time for their own children? You might be surprised to know the houses of many tech giants are far less digital than one might expect. 

In fact, a survey conducted by The Information revealed that the kids of Silicon Valley residents spend considerably less time on screens than the average American child. Some even go so far as to hire nannies to police their children’s screen time. 

Read on to find out how tech elite like Alexis Ohanian and Mark Zuckerberg approach screen time rules for their kids. 

Bill Gates: Microsoft

BIll Gates
Source

Bill Gates’s children are grown now, but while they were still under his roof, he was open about his moderate approach to their use of screens. He explained his philosophy in an interview with the UK’s Mirror: “You’re always looking at how it can be used in a great way — homework and staying in touch with friends — and also where it has gotten to excess.” Some of the ways Gates guarded against that excess was by setting screen-free times, such as during meals and before bed. His children were also not allowed to have their own phones until the age of 14, despite their protests.  

Alexis Ohanian: Reddit

Alexis Ohanian
Source

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian looks forward to the day his daughter Olympia is old enough to play video games with him. But he and wife Serena Williams aren’t in a hurry to put a screen in her hand anytime soon. Ohanian told CNBC, “It’s really important that she gets time to just be with her thoughts and be with her blocks and be with her toys, so we’ll be regulating [tech use] pretty heavily.”

Susan Wojcicki: YouTube, Google

Susan Wojcicki
Source

Susan Wojcicki is a tech veteran. In fact, Google was started in her garage. And the former Intel employee went on to become employee number 16 at the company. These days, Wojcicki is the CEO of YouTube but, despite her years in the tech trenches, she admits to struggling with the issue of screen time for her kids. "We spend as much time as other parents taking phones away from our kids,” she told the Belfast Telegraph. And while Wojcicki does allow her younger kids to use YouTube Kids, she limits the amount of time they spend on it, saying, “I think too much of anything is not a good thing.”

Mark Zuckerberg: Meta

Source

As the co-founder of Facebook and executive chairman CEO of Meta, Mark Zuckerberg may be one of the most recognizable names in tech. Facebook and Meta have been under fire for how their products impact children, including recent congressional hearings, which certainly makes one wonder how Zuckerberg handles screens for his own children. He has previously said that he lets his kids video chat to keep in touch with relatives who live across the country. However, he draws a different line when it comes to what he calls mindlessly consuming content, saying, “I don’t generally want my kids to be sitting in front of a TV or a computer for a long period of time.”

Sundar Pichai: Google

Sundar Pichai
Source

With regards to his children, Google CEO Sundar Pichai admitted in an interview with the BBC that he has “always been worried about technology." But he also understands the digital world he’s raising them in. So, rather than set strict limits, Pichai prefers to stress the importance of digital literacy. He says he tries to foster a sense of personal responsibility by encouraging them to develop their own boundaries. 

Chamath Palihapitiya: (Formerly) Facebook

Chamath Palihapitiya
Source

Former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya has admitted to feeling “tremendous guilt” about the platform he helped build, telling an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business that “we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” Given this perspective, it might come as no surprise that, when it comes to social media, his own children “aren’t allowed to use that shit.”

Mom looking at phone on couch

You’ve taken all the right steps to monitor your child’s text messages. The device contract is signed, you hold regular tech check-ins, and you’ve signed up for a monitoring app. Great job! But do you know what to do when your child sends inappropriate texts? What if you discover they sent explicit images, shared violent videos, or bullied one of their peers? 

The answer is not to freak out, throw their phone in the trash, and ground them for life. Read on for practical tips on talking to your child about sending inappropriate text messages. 

What is considered inappropriate messages?

Text messages and social media messaging can be full of concerning content for kids, and that can lead to some pretty questionable behavior. 

Here are some examples of what you might find: 

  • Sexts: These are explicit pictures or messages your child has sent of themselves or someone else. 
  • Bullying: Cyberbullying has surpassed other forms of bullying as the number one form of harassment among middle and high school kids, according to Pew Research Center. Messages and group chats are a prime place where this can happen.
  • Private made public: Kids might take a screenshot of private conversations or pictures and share them to a wider audience. 
  • Inappropriate videos: It’s relatively easy for kids to find videos that contain gore, violence, adult behavior, and other material that kids may not be prepared to handle on their own. Kids may send each other links to these videos for the shock-factor.

Why kids send inappropriate messages

There are many reasons a child may send inappropriate messages. That could include peer pressure, the desire for acceptance, and attention seeking. It’s also important to remember their brains are still under construction. 

The prefrontal cortex, involved in things like decision-making, doesn’t finish developing until around age 25. That means kids can be impulsive, without thinking through the consequences of their actions. It’s not dissimilar from the reasons kids misbehave or rebel in other ways, but the sheer scale of inappropriate messages online can feel like uncharted territory — especially to parents who didn’t grow up in the digital era. 

The best time to talk to your child about inappropriate messages

Establishing expectations for responsible behavior over messages should ideally start before you hand your child their first device, and it should be an ongoing conversation as they grow up. 

If that ship has already sailed, let this be your sign to start now, before you discover an issue. And if that ship has already sailed and you’ve come to this article because you just found something upsetting on your child’s phone, take a deep breath, take the time you need to calm down, and get to it. 

While early is best, it’s never too late. You’ve got this! 

How to talk to your child about sending inappropriate messages

When you talk to your child about the inappropriate messages you found, it’s important to know both what to say and how to say it. Here are some tips for both: 

How to talk to your child: 

  • Keep your cool: The goal is open communication and a constructive resolution. That’s hard to do when you’re through the roof. Regulate your own emotions before you approach your child. 
  • Listen: Try to avoid jumping to conclusions before you’ve had a chance to talk to your child. The more open-minded you can be going into your conversation, the more you can be a supportive force for helping them right the course. 
  • Avoid shaming: Listen. You’re mad, and that’s normal. It’s okay to let your child know you’re upset. But shame is counterproductive. Make it clear that your love for your child is unconditional and nothing they can do will change that. Let them know they are more than their mistakes and that you’ll be here to support them as they move through this one.   

What to say: 

  • Explain your concerns: Did what they sent hurt someone else? Are you worried about the consequences for their own life? Be explicit about your concerns and why what they did wasn’t okay.
  • Discuss the implications: Talk to your child about how to live out their values in a digital space. Make sure they understand the importance of considering their digital footprint
  • Come up with a plan: Start by asking your child what they think should be done to make things right. You might be surprised by their insightfulness. After they’re done, fill in any gaps if needed. Solutions might include apologizing to the person they harassed, or asking the person they sent an explicit message to delete it. 
  • Look forward: Once the situation at hand is settled, make your expectations going forward crystal-clear. Write or revise your digital device contract to make sure it includes texting and messaging behavior. 

In short

If you discover your child has sent inappropriate messages, it’s important to approach them with a calm, open manner and discuss both the short- and long-term implications of their actions.

Girl texting on floor

What are the benefits of text message monitoring? Research suggests that staying aware of what your child is up to can lower depressive symptoms and lead to fewer risky behaviors. And we know that text messaging opens kids up to specific risks like viewing explicit images, cyberbullying, toxic group chats, and online predators. Given these factors, it’s wise to monitor your child’s text messages. However, exactly what shape that monitoring takes will vary from family to family. 

Is reading my child’s text messages an invasion of privacy?

Children deserve a reasonable level of privacy. Younger kids need more hands-on supervision, while older teens can have more independence, depending on their maturity level. Spying on your child (except in rare, extenuating circumstances) is a violation of that privacy. But there’s a big difference between snooping around behind your child’s back and taking an active role in their digital life. 

The key distinction is transparency. Be clear about how you expect your child to behave when they’re texting friends and what they should do if someone makes them feel uncomfortable. Let them know ahead of time that you will be monitoring their messages, and be specific about what that monitoring will look like. 

Some parents choose to make text message monitoring a condition for letting their child use their device: in order to use their phone, the child has to let their parent monitor their text messages. 

Think about it this way: you wouldn’t drop your child off in the middle of a crowd in a strange place and expect them to be fine. With parental monitoring, including text message monitoring, you’re guiding and protecting your child during a pivotal, and impressionable, time in their development.

How to monitor your child’s texts

The key to effectively monitoring your child’s texts is to pair it with other strategies. Here are some approaches we recommend: 

  • Tech check-ins: Regularly look at your child’s phone with them, discussing what you find. Keep it light and non-judgemental. The goal is to get the lay of their digital landscape and demonstrate your interest. 
  • Open-door policy: Demonstrate through words and actions that your child can come to you with their problems, and you’ll support them through it.
  • Direct monitoring: Consider doing spot-checks where you ask your child to hand over their device so you can look through it. 
  • Remote monitoring: Apps like BrightCanary scan your child’s text messages on Apple devices, alerting you to any issues. This is a great way to give older kids some privacy, while staying abreast of any concerns. Instead of reading every text message, you can step in when you get an alert.

When should parents stop monitoring their child’s texts? 

There’s no hard-and-fast rule for the right time to stop reading your child’s texts. Ideally, your involvement in their digital life should shift as they age and demonstrate maturity and responsibility. Here are some factors to consider when setting your text message monitoring strategy:

  • Age: As kids first learn to use technology, they need more guidance on how to do so safely and responsibly. But as they age, it’s vital they learn independence. Over time, take steps back and trust the groundwork you’ve laid.  
  • Maturity: Some kids are ready for independence sooner than others. Think about how your child handles other responsibilities. Chances are that same behavior applies to texting, too. 
  • Temperament: If your child engages in risky behavior offline, they’re more likely to do the same in digital spaces. You know your child. Trust your instincts on how much monitoring they need. 

What if my child reacts negatively to text message monitoring?

Your child might not like the idea of text message monitoring, and you should prepare yourself for that possibility. Here are some talking points to help you navigate the conversation: 

  • “I respect your privacy, but I also need to make sure you’re safe.”
  • “My job is to help you learn how to use a phone safely and responsibly. Looking at your phone is one way I do that.”
  • “These are the situations in which I may need to look at your messages.” 
  • “Let’s talk about what I’m looking for, what I expect from you, and how we can handle it together if I find something concerning.”

Pro tip: You can use a digital device contract to lay out the terms of how you’ll monitor your child’s texts, plus consequences for breaking those rules and expectations.

What do I do if I find something inappropriate on my child’s phone?

If you come across something inappropriate on your child’s phone, here are steps you can take to address it: 

  • Stay calm: Freaking out is an almost guaranteed way to shut down your chances at a productive conversation. Approach your child in a non-judgemental manner. That may mean you need to take some time between finding the upsetting content and talking to them. 
  • Listen: Try to avoid jumping to conclusions before you’ve had a chance to talk to your child. The more open-minded you can be going into your conversation, the more you can be a supportive force for helping them right the course. 
  • Examine your limits: It may be time to set new expectations for your child’s phone use, or it may be a matter of reiterating existing boundaries and asking your child to recommit to them.
  • Know when to get help: If what you found on your child’s phone involves self-harm, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, or anything else that raises major alarm bells for you, consider enlisting the help of a professional. 

In short

It’s important that parents take an active role in their child’s digital life. Depending on the child’s age, that includes text message monitoring. In order to respect your child’s privacy, it’s important to be transparent and set clear expectations every step of the way. Ready to get started with text message monitoring? With BrightCanary, parents can supervise their child’s texts on Apple devices. Start your free trial today.

Father and son talking on couch

Since the early days of the internet, parents have worried what their children are up to online, and companies have responded with parental controls to help keep kids safe. But the way we use the internet has changed dramatically since its inception. This shift has ushered in the need for new approaches to parental controls. Read on to learn how we got here and to explore the best parental controls and monitoring apps to protect kids online.

Types of parental controls 

There are four basic categories of parental controls, ranging from settings on your child’s devices to third-party software. 

Content filters

These controls filter out inappropriate content, thereby limiting what your child can access. In the early days of the internet, the only way to filter content was to install third-party software, such as Net Nanny. Now, the option to filter content is built right into search engines. 

Usage controls 

Usage controls include things like screen time limits and blocking access to certain types of apps, such as social media or gaming. Apple Screen Time is a prime example: this free service allows you to prevent your child from making purchases on the App Store without your permission, schedule quiet time for notifications, and more.

Computer user management 

User management tools are software that set different levels of access, depending on who’s using the device. If you log in to your family laptop, you’ll have unrestricted access, while your child’s profile will include limitations. Most computers now have this feature built-in. 

Monitoring tools

Monitoring tools do exactly what the name suggests: monitor your child’s activity online. What they monitor varies widely depending on the tool. For example, Apple’s Find My monitors your child’s location, while an app like BrightCanary monitors your child’s social media, text messages, and Google and YouTube activity.

The early days of parental controls 

Back in the Wild, Wild West of the World Wide Web, the options for parental controls were limited to web filters. In 1994, Net Nanny introduced a browser that filtered web and chat room content, blocked images, and masked profanity. 

While it was revolutionary at the time, these were still the days where using the internet meant sitting at a desktop computer — typically on a shared family device — with the unmistakable pings of the dial-up modem announcing anytime someone was online. 

Since then, a lot has changed about how we use technology. Kids can access the internet from the palm of their hand with smartphones, smart watches, and tablets. We’re always connected, always online, and always dealing with the compulsion to check social media feeds. These changes have introduced new needs for keeping kids safe online. 

The changing needs of parents and kids

Between WiFi, mobile devices, and social media, using the internet looks very different than it did in the early days of parental controls. And things like the advent of algorithms and the introduction of monetizing data means our lives are intertwined with the internet in ways we couldn’t have imagined back in dial-up days.  

So, what do modern parents really need with parental controls? 

  • Products that seamlessly integrate into their digital lives: This has been a challenge because, while the iPhone has become the dominant device among teens, Apple is notoriously guarded when it comes to allowing third-party apps to monitor activity. This means that very few parental monitoring solutions have been designed that make monitoring truly easy for parents with kids who use Apple devices. 
  • Products that complement what they’re already doing: Apple now offers robust parental control settings, and most social media platforms have their own suites of controls. This leaves less need for all-in-one apps like Bark and Qustodio, which can feel clunky and redundant when parents can now customize these settings (for free) directly on their phone. Other apps, such as BrightCanary, fill in the gaps by monitoring what other tools don’t, such as social media feeds.
  • The ability to monitor messages: Gone are the days where parents knew who their kids were chatting with because they could overhear them on the phone or sneak a peek as they sent instant messages on the family computer. Nowadays, kids primarily communicate over text messages and direct messages, not only on computers, but on phones, tablets, and smartwatches — often out of sight of parents. This shifting landscape has introduced new avenues for kids to be exposed to harmful content and requires new ways for parents to supervise their children.  

Modern solutions for parenting in the digital age

BrightCanary allows parents to keep tabs on their kid’s online life wherever and whenever, all from their own phone. They offer the most comprehensive coverage for kids on Apple devices and, unlike other apps, they actually allow parents to see what their kids are viewing online and view their text message conversations. It’s a modern solution for the needs of modern families. 

In short 

What families need from parental controls has shifted in recent years, but many companies have failed to keep up with these changes. BrightCanary offers modern parental control solutions that work for modern families. 

parents with son at table while mother ruffles child's hair

According to a nationwide survey, 87% of teens use iPhones. This majority means it’s key for parental control apps to offer robust tools that are effective on Apple devices. But how do the options stack up? Read on for a roundup of the best parental control apps on iPhone. 

Why parental controls are important

On average, children in the U.S. spend more than four hours a day on devices, with teens often clocking as many as nine hours. With such a significant portion of kid’s lives being lived online, it’s important that parents use every tool available to them to keep their kids safe from things like online predators, cyberbullying, and inappropriate content.

Recently, the American Psychological Association recommended that parents monitor social media for kids under age 15. That’s because excessive social media use is associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety, as well as negative impacts on sleep quality and self-esteem. Parents can and should use parental controls to manage the amount of time kids spend on their devices and understand what type of content they consume. 

Best parental control apps on iPhone

BrightCanary home screen and report screen

BrightCanary

When it comes to the best parental control apps for Apple devices, BrightCanary stands out from the pack. BrightCanary uses advanced technology to remotely monitor your child’s YouTube, Google, TikTok, and Instagram activity.

BrightCanary monitors what other apps can’t, like TikTok direct messages, Instagram comments, and YouTube searches. Some apps can only scan content when your child is connected to the same WiFi as you, which is challenging when you’re outside the home. BrightCanary is different — the app continuously monitors your child’s online activity whenever, wherever, and alerts you when you need to get involved.

Plus, BrightCanary recently added text message monitoring. This feature is designed to make BrightCanary the best parental control app to monitor text messages on Apple devices because it shows you what the texts actually say, unlike other apps, which simply send you a content alert. 

Life 360

You can think of Life 360 as location tracking plus. In addition to their location, you can use it to see things like your child’s phone battery life, ETA, and driving speed. 

Life 360 works very well on the iPhone, but its features are limited. Without the ability to access any other apps or data outside of Life360, the parental control options are limited to its tracking features. If you have a new driver on your hands and want to help them stay safe on the road, Life360 is a fantastic choice. But for robust parental controls for when they reach their destination, you’ll have to look elsewhere. 

Qustodio

Qustodio wins points for offering very similar features and functionality for iPhones as it does for Android devices. Parents can use Qustodio to set limits on apps and block kids from using specific apps and websites. But its monitoring capabilities only alert you when they try to access something you’ve blocked. So if you want to allow your child to use social media, but are interested in options to monitor their use, Qustodio may not be enough for you. 

Norton Family

With Norton Family, you can block your child from accessing specific websites or content and get insight into their online activity. The reports show you what search terms your child uses and their browser history. It also alerts you if they attempt to visit a blocked site. 

Similar to Qustodio, the only option for managing social media is to block your child from the sites entirely. This is a good option for younger kids, but may not be the best choice for teens. One major drawback for Apple users is that Norton Family doesn’t provide any app supervision for iPhones. 

Bark 

Similar to BrightCanary, Bark uses advanced technology to scan texts, social media, and other online material for concerning content and alert parents when there’s an issue. You can also do things like control app downloads and require approval for new contacts. 

However, Bark's limitations are notable. While it can scan content on Android devices anytime, it can only manually scan iOS devices when they're connected to the same network as a desktop with the Bark for Parents app installed and active. Bark might be suitable for monitoring a device used only at home, but it falls short in tracking your kids' iPhone usage wherever they go.

The bottom line

The best parental control app is the one that works best for your family. Some apps rely on a block-and-restrict approach, but Apple devices already come with robust parental control features that allow you to restrict what websites, apps, and content your child can access. Other parental control apps, like BrightCanary, allow parents to monitor what their kids do online and step in when they need to. This level of iPhone parental monitoring can help teach your kids how to be safe and responsible digital citizens, and it encourages more regular conversations about what they see online.

Cell phone lock box examples

It’s no secret that using devices before bed is bad for sleep. To help kids develop healthy sleep habits, it’s a good idea to limit their phone use before bed — and a cell phone lock box is a practical solution the entire family can use to develop a nighttime device routine that actually sticks. Check out these eight cell phone lockers that help you store devices overnight, ranging from funny and decorative to lock-and-key serious.

8 cell phone lock box options

The hilarious: Phone bed

If you’re eager for your family to put away their devices at night, but you’re struggling to get them similarly enthused, consider using humor to get everyone on board. Enter the phone bed. After all, you’ve likely spent years bringing your phone with you to your actual bed — doesn’t it deserve a cozy place of its own to sleep and recharge? 

If you’re looking for something a little less pricey, try an Ikea hack with this simple doll bed. You can take the gag as far as you want, adding a pillow and sleeping mask, tucking your phones in for the night, and even signing them a lullaby. It might feel silly at first, but you never know, this could be your family’s new favorite nighttime ritual. 

The ultra basic: Simple wooden tray

If you’re interested in minimal effort and maximum efficiency, grab a tray or a bowl you have lying around, toss it in a common area of the house, and use it as a storage site for devices. For an upgrade that won’t break the bank, check out this cute tray from Target. (Bonus: when it’s not serving Zzzs for your family’s phones, it can do double duty and serve drinks for the adults.) 

The ultra-practical: Charging station 

Are you the kind of family who prefers to take care of business without the fuss or fluff? Then you might want to opt for a charging station. Stick it in a cupboard to get it out of the way and you’ve just created a device cabinet. Boom. 

The we-mean-business: Lock box 

Do the kids in your house (or — be honest — the adults) have a hard time not sneaking their phones out of bed after lights out? Your situation might call for something more drastic. This cell phone lock box keeps devices secure until it’s time to wake them up. Just make sure you pick the person in your family with the most self-control to be in charge of the combination. 

The DIY: Shoebox charging station 

Calling all crafters! If this is you, then I know you have a spare shoebox and some decorative paper lying around. Enlist your kids to help you snazzy up the box and drill a few holes in the side. You’ll have yourself a bespoke charging station tailored to match your design aesthetic. 

The incognito: Repurposed bread box

If your decor is less high-tech and more cottagecore, you’re a perfect contender for a bread box charging station. Depending on your level of commitment to the lifestyle, you can either DIY it or pop over to Etsy for an endless selection. 

The botanical: Planter charging station

Bring a little green into your home with a charging station that doubles as a planter. Your kids can use the built-in LCD clock to know precisely the moment they can reclaim their devices in the morning. And if fake grass isn’t your thing (is it anyone’s?), you can replace it with the plant of your choice. 

The bottom line

A cell phone lock box might seem like an extreme solution, but it’s a practical way to create a barrier between hands and screens. For the best results, get the whole family involved: have everyone commit to a time when their devices go into the cell phone locker (or bed, or planter).

Mother and child looking at tablet together

Parents are told all the time how important it is that kids not get too much screen time. But how much is too much? How do you know when you’ve reached that point? And — most importantly — how do you get your kid to actually step away from the screen? We break down recommended screen time by age, plus tips to help your child put down their screens when time is up. 

Recommended screen time by age

While headlines often depict screen time as a black-and-white issue, suggesting immediate dire consequences if your child exceeds screen time limits by even a minute, the actual research is less conclusive and expert recommendations are more nuanced.

Here are the current guidelines from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP): 

  • Under 2: No screen time, with the exception of video chats. 
  • Ages 2-5: Limit non-educational screen time to about 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours per day on weekends.
  • Ages 6+: Encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens.

Signs your child is getting too much screen time

If the lack of definitive guidelines for older children, teens, and tweens leaves you feeling like you’re floundering in the dark, don’t worry. There’s still plenty of expert guidance to help you determine when your child is getting too much screen time so you can adjust accordingly. 

Here are some signs to watch for: 

  • Disrupted sleep 
  • Trouble stopping screen time when asked 
  • New or worsening behavioral problems 
  • Impaired academic performance 
  • Difficulty focusing 

Tips for reigning in screen time by age

Below, we’ll walk through some tips to set boundaries around screen time in and around the home. It’s a good idea to lay out these rules in a digital device contract that you discuss with your kids and revisit as they grow older. 

Younger kids

For preschool- and elementary-aged kids, parents should still be fairly involved in their screen-time routine. 

Tips for younger kids: 

  • Screen time limits: Although experts don’t specify a set number of hours for kids over six, that doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t set limits. Look at your family’s routine and consider your child’s schedule, temperament, and needs when deciding how much is too much. 
  • Use parental controls: In addition to using parental controls to limit inappropriate content, many devices allow you to also set screen time limits. For example, Apple Family Sharing is a free, robust suite of features that allow you to set a screen time schedule for your child’s devices, among other helpful features.

Tweens

By the time kids reach their middle school years, parents can start giving a little more leeway, but should maintain plenty of hands-on involvement. 

Tips for tweens:

  • More flexible limits: Instead of a set amount of screen time each day, you might try other limits such as finishing all homework first or no screens after dinner. 
  • Talk about healthy screen habits: Educate your child on the consequences of too much screen time. Help them learn to recognize for themselves when they’ve overdone it.

Teens

The teenage years are a time for preparing to be an adult while still under the watchful eye and protective wing of actual adults. Teens still need some guardrails, but it’s important they start learning how to manage their own screen habits. 

Tips for teens: 

  • No-phone zones: Establish areas of the home where phones aren’t allowed, such as bedrooms or the dining table. This creates natural device barriers and encourages healthy habits. 
  • Screen-free times: Decide when screens are a no-go, such as before school, during dinner, or an hour before bed. 
  • Use apps: Apps aimed at helping users understand and regulate their screen time can be a valuable tool as teens have more autonomy with their devices. 

Additional tips for all ages

Regardless of your child’s age, here are some tips to help limit their screen time: 

  • Encourage other activities: Getting your child involved in extracurriculars or encouraging them to pursue a hobby can naturally limit their screen time because they will be busy with other things. 
  • Plan screen-free family time: Activities like family game night, bowling, or hiking are fun ways to get your kids away from their screens. 
  • Lead by example: Examine your own screen habits and see where you can cut down. Not only will this benefit your health and wellbeing, but it also sets a great example for your kids to follow.  
  • Adjust as needed: Remember, nothing is set in stone. If you realize your approach is either too strict or too permissive, it can always be adjusted.  

The takeaway 

Screens are an unavoidable part of modern life, but it’s important that children develop healthy limits around their use. Parents should adjust their approach as children age to help them maintain balance and learn how to manage screen time on their own.

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