Fort Worth, Texas,
10:13 AM

At What Age Should a Child Own a Smartphone?

IS Security Officer has conversation on owning a phone with his own child

My wife and I are currently in a (two-year) debate with our 10-year old son. He just hit double digits and used that landmark as the basis for his argument to get a smartphone. I practice what I preach, so he knew he was not going to get a phone as a gift on his birthday.

I am against giving phones as gifts because a gift signifies ownership. It has been made clear in our household that when he does receive a smartphone, it will be a privilege, not a gift, and the phone will belong to me and his mother, on our plan, paid for by family funds. Before we go further, please understand that my wife has a Juris Doctorate and was a practicing attorney prior to having children. So, my kids are well versed in making sound arguments.

With this in mind, he did come at us with a well thought out argument. He expressed his understanding of certain rules we have shared with him from previous queries, listing would-be imposed limits and other restrictions. He eloquently delivered his argument with style and grace – and then my wife and I used even more eloquence to deny his request with mutual style and grace. Although we have shared our age restriction with him in the past, I suppose he didn’t see any harm in trying. Our agreed upon age for his first phone is 12.

Giving him a bit of credit for his argument, I decided to do a little more research from angles outside of my expertise. I found several articles on the subject. A new report from Influence Central’s 2016 Digital Trends Study titled, Kids & Tech: The Evolution of Today’s Digital Natives”  found the average now for getting a first phone is 10.3 years old.

With what I do for a living, and as a parent, I found information from the report interesting:

  • Twenty-seven percent of parents now use online programs to control and filter sites or platforms, compared to 23 percent four years earlier. Parents, I highly recommend doing this. Click here and see the helpful links to learn more on my thoughts on this topic.
  • Not enough parents are using smartphones’ GPS to track down their kids, but parents are catching on – the number increased to 15 percent in 2016, compared to only 7 in 2012.
  • Fifty percent of kids have social media accounts by age 12 and 11 percent got a social media account when they were younger than 10. If I’m not ready to let my son have a smartphone at 10, I’m sure not ready for him to dive into social media.

I understand it’s beneficial for some parents to allow access to a mobile phone at a younger age than others – if the phone is limited. In our situation, we really don’t need our boys to have phones. My wife homeschools our kids, we live out in the country and use two-way radios on property. We don’t drop them off at places such as malls or theme parks on their own. Sure, those days will come, but not just yet. Families will differ greatly. Both parents may work, the kids may ride the bus home after school, etc.

Allowing a young child to have full use of a smartphone can lead to trouble. I am a little leery about 12 years old, so I would definitely not recommend it for a child under that age without heavy restrictions. Free apps that can be easily downloaded can allow the child to meet total strangers online. A child that young simply doesn’t have the maturity level to deal with the types of situations they are likely to encounter.

If you do find yourself in a situation where your younger child having a cell phone would bring peace of mind and make your life easier, go basic. Get the cheapest, most basic phone offered, do not allow data usage, and limit the phones ability to call other phone numbers. Once you have the phone, you can log onto your providers website (Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.) and set restrictions on the phone. And, yes, you can limit the phone’s ability to only be able to call you and your spouse’s numbers, grandparents, neighbors, etc.

For my wife and I, we have the luxury of waiting until we are reasonably sure he is mature enough to handle the responsibility. But, if we did have a need for him to have a phone now, it would be very limited.

Rest assured, once that day comes, I will be monitoring his activity closely.

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