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.
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
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.