If your child is begging for you to buy them their own phone, you’re not alone.
In today’s digital age, the question of when to get your child their first cell phone is one that many parents grapple with.
Most children are not ready for the responsibilities and risks that come with a cell phone until at least middle school. However, some children may show maturity earlier, while others may need more time.
Here’s some things to consider to help guide you in making an informed decision:
1. Your Child’s Maturity Level
One of the primary factors to consider is your child’s level of maturity. Every child is different. There is no perfect age for when they are ready for their own cell phone. Consider your child’s ability to follow rules, understand consequences, and demonstrate responsible behavior.
Things to ask yourself are:
- Do you trust your child’s judgement when you’re not around?
- Do they follow your family’s rules about media (TV, video games, etc.)?
- Does your child feel comfortable telling you when they make mistakes?
- Are they able to control their impulses, such as not overreacting when disappointed?
- Do they show responsibility, such as with school work or with chores?
- Do they take good care of their things and not lose items?
2. The Need for Communication
Many parents consider buying their child a cell phone because of the need for communication and safety. If your child is involved in after-school activities, splits time between two homes, visits friends’ houses, or has a longer commute to school, a cell phone can be a useful tool for staying connected with you.
Before making a decision, assess your child’s daily routine and consider whether a cell phone would enhance their safety and your peace of mind in specific situations.
Keep in mind a smart phone is not the only option. If you need a way to communicate, you can also consider options like a flip phone or a watch that allows communication.
3. Consider the Risks
While there are benefits to your child having their own phone, there are also risks and downsides to consider.
Giving your child full access to a phone will likely lead to increased screen time. This can increase anxiety and depression, especially for some kids using social media extensively. Cell phones also act as a distraction and can interfere with sleep, homework, extracurriculars, and even social interaction with their family and friends.
Having their own device also makes it easier for your child to come across adult, inappropriate, or disturbing content. A phone can also give sexual predators direct access to your child. Predators may send sexual images, coerce your child to send explicit images, or encourage an in-person meetup.
4. Digital Citizenship
If your child has access to a device, whether it’s their own phone or not, it’s important to talk to them about digital citizenship.
Talk to them about how their behavior online can have consequences for them and for others. Have discussions about online bullying, including what to do if they are being bullied and how to treat others online.
Encourage responsible online behavior, discuss the potential risks of sharing personal information, and emphasize the importance of respectful communication in both the digital and the real world.
5. Ability to Monitor Usage and Set Rules
Another important factor to consider is your ability to monitor your child’s cell phone usage and set clear rules.
Once your child has a cell phone, ongoing monitoring and engagement will be critical. You will need to keep an eye on their online activities, review their contacts, and be aware of the apps they use. You can consider using a content blocker on the phone, as well as limiting which apps they have access to.
Make sure you establish rules for screen time, appropriate content, and online behavior. Discuss these rules with your child and reinforce the importance of responsible phone use.
We recommend you use this family media plan tool created by the American Academy of Pediatrics to help you built a plan that fits your family’s needs.
Regularly talk to your kid about their experiences and content they’ve come across, providing guidance and support as needed. By involving your child in the decision-making process and establishing open communication, you can foster a sense of responsibility and help them understand the privileges and risks of having a cell phone.