The time has come. Your child, or adolescent, is asking for a phone. But not just any phone will do, of course. They need a smartphone. Preferably the latest model. “Everyone has one,” they’re telling you. (Which may not be 100% true, by the way.)
But before you go and purchase said smartphone, you decide to research online. (For that we say, good going!) And here you are, wondering about what age your child should get a phone.
For purposes of this article we will be discussing a smartphone, but this discussion also applies to any electronic device with Internet access, such as a laptop.
When Should My Adolescent Get a Phone?
Truthfully, every child is different. While one child could be ready to have a phone at 13, another 13-year-old might still not be ready. That’s why, instead of stating a specific age, we will offer some insight to help you make your own decision about when your adolescent is ready for a phone.
Sounds like we’re being dramatic?
We’re not. It’s a dangerous world out there. All you need to do is peruse the latest headlines of child abductions and murders to realize that social media is insidiously becoming a seamless way of removing our children from right under our noses.
But don’t just take it from us. We’ll share with you what some of the experts have said when it comes to adolescents and technology.
What Age is Best for a Phone?
First, Common Sense Media warns parents not to give a phone to a child until you are confident enough that they are prepared and willing to use the phone wisely. This organization, dedicated to the safety of children online, encourages parents to consider a child’s sense of responsibility, ability to follow rules, and their general maturity level.
Here are some questions you should consider when it comes to whether or not your child is ready for a phone, adapted from Common Sense Media:
- Will they use text, photo, and video functions responsibly? Will they use it to embarrass or harass others?
- Can they adhere to limits you set for their phone usage?
- In general, do they show a sense of responsibility, such as letting you know when they leave the house and returning home when they say they will?
- Will they be using their phone during class? Will a phone distract them from their schoolwork?
- Does your child absolutely need a phone for safety reasons?
To put it in their words: “If you think your kids’ technological savvy is greater than their ability to use it wisely,” it might be worthwhile to wait a year or two before getting them a phone.
Technology Experts and Their Kids’ Phones
We’ll mention that many tech leaders—perhaps most aware of the harmful effects too much screen time can have on a growing teen—are stricter than many when it comes to their children’s phones.
For example, Bill Gates did not give his children phones until they were already in high school. “They complained other kids got them earlier,” Gates once said in an interview to the Mirror. Even once he did provide phones, he instituted multiple parental controls, banning phones at the dinner table and after a certain hour in the evening.
Mark Cuban, a technology investor and expert, also makes his 15-year-old daughter turn in her phone at 10 p.m. during the week. According to CNBC, he monitors his daughter’s phone constantly. He has installed parental filters that track what apps she’s using, and he can shut off her phone activity whenever he wants.
“I’m sneaky as can be,” says the billionaire, “and she hates it.” But to Cuban, having a healthy, safe teen is more important.
And while the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, does not have kids, he told the Guardian that he encourages his nephew not to create any social media accounts. He encourages parents to utilize the intuitive parental controls built right into the iPhone to limit their kids’ screen time.
Risks of a Smartphone
Electronics widens our perspective of the world. Phones allow us to be in touch with our adolescents, which helps keep them safer. But is the desire to keep them physically safer putting them in mental or emotional danger? The internet is a dangerous place for teens to play in. A data-enabled smartphone lets them run around in this online playground freely.
For example: Type in the wrong keywords on Google and you immediately get tons of adult-themed spam. Post a selfie on Instagram and be prepared to receive lewd comments from predators seeking to bait you. Watch a trailer of a movie on YouTube and you might end up in a rabbit-hole of inappropriate content. Accidentally click the wrong link, and see something terrible you can never erase from your mind.
Have a Conversation With Your Kids
Before handing your child a phone, have The Conversation. This conversation is as, if not more, important as the one about the birds and the bees.
The conversation is about staying safe when trying to maneuver social media. It’s about being wise online, about understanding all the dangers on the web and maintaining best practices for avoiding some of the traps. During this conversation, tell your teen some of the things that could happen if they’re not careful on social media or on the internet in general. This includes sex trafficking. Drug promotion. Inappropriate language. Predators. Tell them they should always feel comfortable to come to you if they encounter anything inappropriate online, or anything that makes them queasy or uncomfortable.
It’s the stranger danger talk, but for the internet.
Bethany Gilot, an anti-trafficking professional who strives to educate parents on the dangers of the web, says, “You might not have traffickers walking around your neighborhood, but with a smartphone or a computer, you can have them right inside your house.”
Of course, before you educate your teen, you first need to educate yourself. Before you have this conversation, you first need to learn about what actually goes on online and in social media. Many parents are completely unaware of how unsavory the digital world can actually get. Read our articles here, here and here for a brief crash course for some of the scary situations a teen can get into online.
If you’re also going to be monitoring their phone, which we wholeheartedly recommend, share this during The Conversation. Say “I’ll be giving you this phone, but I’ll be checking it once/twice/a week with no prior notice.” Be prepared for your teen to object. But hold your ground firmly. At Evolve, we believe that adolescents and teens should never have unfiltered, unlimited access to their electronic devices. Giving your teen free reign on an iPhone is like letting them loose in a dark alleyway where you know dangerous characters hang out.
You want a phone for your child for safety reasons—whether they’re commuting to school and you need to be in touch with them throughout the day, or whether you simply feel more at ease when they have a way to contact you in an emergency.
However, don’t let your desire for physical safety override their need for mental and emotional safety. Sometimes, parents don’t realize that getting their child a phone is actually putting their teen in more danger than ever before.