When Should You Get Your Kid a Phone?

kid using phone

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Your child will start begging for a phone around the time they are able to form the “f” sound with their mouths.

Once they start school and meet other preschoolers with their own smartphones, it will be a daily ask.

What is the right age for a phone? Keep reading!

When Should a Child Have a Phone

There are two metrics to use when deciding when a child receives their first phone. The first is necessity. Will your child’s life and safety improve with a phone? The second is maturity. Are they responsible enough to own a phone? If the answers to both questions are yes, it is time for a phone.

The Right Age for a Phone

It would be much simpler to determine when to give your child a phone if there was a clear age limit.

Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Some kids aren’t ready for phones until they hit middle school. Others receive them much earlier.

Some aren’t given phones until their teen years. It is up to each family to decide what works best for them.

Ideally, a child should be given a phone when it is needed for safety reasons. For instance, a child who walks home from school alone may be given a cell phone for emergencies.

About half of all families have two parents working full-time, which means a child may be home alone after school.

Having a cell phone might be a wise a choice, especially if the household is one of the two-thirds of all American homes who no longer have landlines.

My children were given cell phones when they first went to sleepaway camp. This happened at about age 10.

The camps they went to did not have phones in the cabins or pay phones nearby. Instead, they suggested children bring cell phones to call moms and dads.

I took this as a clear sign that not only was a cell phone a wise choice but a necessity.

Admittedly, many of my kids’ friends already had cell phones by this time. Though there were still some who had parents who were waiting, that number was getting smaller by the day.

Today, almost half of all children at age 10 own cell phones.

The number increases to almost three-fourths by age 12 and to over 90 percent by age 14.

Cell Phone Maturity and Responsibility

Along with necessity, one must also consider maturity.

  • Is your child mature enough to manage a cell phone?
  • Can they keep from damaging the device?
  • Will they avoid losing it?
  • Will they stay away from harmful internet sites?

Even if the answer is no, owning a cell phone might help to foster that responsibility. Luckily, there are ways to help them in all of these areas.

I knew my 10-year-olds would not be gentle with their cell phones. My solution was to buy the cheapest ones I could find.

I use a monthly plan rather than a contract, which allows me to buy the phones I want without being locked into a particular service. I spent about $30 per phone.

They weren’t incredibly useful. They had poor cameras. They had almost no storage space. I viewed all of these things as positives.

My kids couldn’t get into trouble with their phones, nor would they spend too much time surfing the internet or playing games on them because their sole purpose was to call or text if the need arose.

As for losing cell phones, this is nearly impossible. As long as you use a tracking app, you can locate any phone that goes missing.

I have had to use this tracker no less than one billion times. Granted, about half those times have been for my husband’s phone.

Setting Restrictions and Parental Controls

One of the best features of modern smartphones is the ability to set parental controls.

You can use these parental controls to block certain websites, cause the phone to go into sleep mode during specific hours (e.g., during the school day or while the kids are supposed to be sleeping), and again permissions to downloading apps.

As my kids have grown, their cell phones have become less basic and much more functional.

This means they have nearly unlimited space, but I still receive notifications any time an app is installed.

I also receive weekly alerts regarding the amount of time each member of our family has spent on their phone, which helps us keep our phone use in check.

Restrictions can also be set within your home. My kids have rules regarding how and when they can use their phones.

For example, no phones are allowed in bedrooms. It may seem strict, but it is our way of ensuring children are not spending too much time on their phones when they should be sleeping.

We also don’t allow phone usage during meals or when we are having family time.

Proper Cell Phone Usage for Children

Social media can be a blessing as well as a curse. Children are not technically allowed to have any social media accounts until they turn 13, which is an important internet safety measure.

Many children open social media accounts from a much younger age, often with the blessing of their parents. I strongly recommend that you do not allow this.

Children under the age 13 rarely have the maturity to make good choices when it comes to social media accounts.

They may forget to make their accounts private or may post personal information in a public forum.

They can befriend predators, which happens far too often.

Even if they know better than to befriend these predators, they might receive illicit messages from them that expose them to things we would all like to pretend don’t exist (they do).

You should set up a plan with your child when you purchase the cell phone. Let them know that they are to only communicate with people they know in real life.

It is not unwise to give them a solid list of people they can communicate with. Your child must give you all passwords to their phone and any email or messaging accounts that you have decided they can use.

You should also set a time limit on the number of hours they can use the phone per day.

As children age, the rules must also change. For example, my 17-year-old does not have to hand over his passwords to me.

I don’t check up on him nor do I continue to receive reports about the apps he downloads. At this point, he has earned the right to his privacy.

My 13-year-old now has social media accounts but I have set them up for her, and I can check them as I please.

It is a very different reality than when they were 10, but it is important to remember that kids’ needs change as they get older.

This includes more time on the phone, more responsibility and less oversight.

Final Thoughts

Just because a child wants a cell phone doesn’t mean that they should have one.

Weigh the pros and cons before you decide when a cell phone is the right choice.

Do you have any thoughts about cell phone usage among children? Share them in the comments!

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