For young people, getting a smartphone has become more than just a way to communicate with friends and family: it is a coming-of-age ceremony and a vital part of fitting in with their peers. According to a 2019 study from Common Sense Media, 53% of kids have a smartphone by the age of 11, with more than 69% having one by age 12. So when your kids say that “everyone has a phone,” it isn’t as much of an exaggeration as you might think.
Of course, while the ubiquitous nature of smartphones and other mobile devices cannot be denied, that doesn’t mean that parents are always comfortable with it. Pew Research Center found that 71% of parents are concerned that their child might spend too much time in front of screens. There is plenty of evidence that cellphone usage can be harmful to very young children, not to mention that mobile devices can potentially lead to them accessing inappropriate online content or being confronted by cyberbullies.
Your kids will likely need a smartphone or some other mobile device eventually, so it is important to consider the positives and negatives of cellphone ownership, along with their kids’ more specific needs, in order to determine when they are ready for this responsibility.
Knowing When They’re Ready
There is no clear answer as to when someone is ready to have a smartphone. Parents will likely start thinking about the possibility when their child is in middle school, as this is when kids are most likely to start getting involved in after school activities and spending time away from home with friends. Still, rather than there being a “right age” for smartphone ownership, it is best to weigh the benefits and the risks of owning a smartphone, then compare this to your child’s own unique circumstances.
Considering the Benefits
There are plenty of obvious benefits to cellphone ownership. Some of the most notable include:
- Social Interaction: Having a smartphone opens up new possibilities for social contact with peers, such as phone calls, texting, and social media.
- Emergency Situations: The ability to communicate in case of an emergency. With home phones and payphones a thing of the past, a smartphone could be a necessity.
- Academic Benefits: Even in elementary school, it can be tough to do school work without access to the internet and access to apps like Google Docs.
- Entertainment: From mobile games to YouTube, smartphones offer a wide range of entertainment options for kids.
Considering the Risks
Despite the benefits, there are many potential risks involved in giving a child their first smartphone or mobile device. This includes:
- Expensive Responsibility: Smartphone prices might be going down, but they can still be quite expensive. If your child is prone to losing things, they might not be ready for such an expensive investment.
- Health-Related Risks: Research has pointed to excess cellphone usage being connected to everything from obesity to insomnia.
- Cyberbullying & Harassment: Any internet-capable device can potentially open the door to cyberbullying and sexual harassment, so one needs to cautious of how and when their kids use their devices.
- Emotional Maturity & Social Media: An inappropriate text or social media post can have serious repercussions, both socially and professionally, so it is essential that you determine if your kids are emotionally mature enough to be aware of this.
Managing Smartphone Usage
Even if you have some concerns about your child owning a smartphone, it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. If you think that your child is emotionally mature enough to handle a phone, you can still manage how they use their device to steer them towards good practices and mitigate risks. For instance, if you plan to give your child a smartphone in the near future, consider the following tips:
- Limit time spent on the phone: Set clear guidelines on when and how much they are allowed to use their smartphone.
- Consider making a family media agreement: This is a personal contract signed by family members that outlines safe practices for online behavior, covering how they are expected to deal with any internet-capable devices.
- Communicate the risks, but be reasonable: It is important to talk with children about the many potential risks that come with being online, but avoid exaggeration and fear-mongering.
- Discourage oversharing: Teach your child not to share personal details with people they talk to online.
- Talk to them: This might seem obvious, but the best way to learn about your child’s online habits is to just take an interest in them, talk with them, and listen.
- Be a good example: If you want to encourage smartphone cellphone usage and a good relationship with tech as a whole, model that behavior yourself.
Parents might feel pressured by their children to provide them with a cell phone at an early age, but by considering these important factors, they can evaluate their specific situation and decide whether their children are actually ready for this responsibility.