For most parents, figuring out whether to give a smartphone to their child can be a daunting task.
With many children now adept at navigating games on their parents’ phones from infancy, getting their own can quickly become a question of when and what not.
really, According to a 2021 study, more than two-fifths (42%) of children now have their own phone by the age of 10. By age 12, this figure is 71%; By age 14, it’s 91%.
That doesn’t mean you need to give up control as a parent, though. In fact, by having the conversation early on, both you and your child can understand the timelines and expectations associated with phone ownership and any trial runs that may be required first.
“Giving your child their first phone is a big moment for many parents and caregivers, and you can use this as an important opportunity to talk about what they’d like to use it for.” , when they want to use it, and what are the expectations of your family,” Will Gardner, director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, told CNBC Make It.
Before deciding whether or not to give your child a smartphone, it’s important to consider whether they’re ready for it.
More often than not, this decision will depend not on your child’s age, but on their maturity level. So it might be worth thinking about some questions or developmental milestones to help guide your response.
- Who is initiating the conversation about phone ownership, you or your child?
- How responsible is your child? Can they be trusted to take care of their belongings and use the phone properly?
- How beneficial would a phone be to your child, both in terms of their safety and their social development?
- How sensitive is your child and how does he respond to criticism?
- How well does your child cope with limits on screen time and social media use?
“The existing evidence does not support a specific age at which smartphones are or are not recommended,” said Megan Moreno, professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin. “Using a milestone approach is a better way to assess a child’s interest in and readiness for a phone.”
There are no hard and fast rules for those milestones, and they can be defined either independently as a parent or through an open conversation with your child. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics “PhoneReady Questionnaire,” Launched earlier this year in collaboration with telecoms company AT&T, could help guide the discussion.
If you determine that your child isn’t ready for a smartphone yet, there are a number of alternative options that can help you meet their requests while giving you piece of mind as a parent.
A simple mobile phone, or “dumb phone,” may allow your child to send messages and make phone calls with little or no computing and Internet capabilities.
For a bit more sophistication, models like the Gab phone include a camera, GPS and a selection of curated apps, without allowing potentially risky tasks like picture messaging or group texts.
Meanwhile, a smart watch can provide access to a range of tools – such as messaging, calls, GPS and some apps – while having the added benefit of staying connected to your child, helping to reduce loss or theft.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to give your child their own device, you can choose to allow them to use their phone at select times or around the house, or you can give them a non-internet-enabled device under your guidance. Can allow hotspot connection to the device. ,
If you’ve already given your child permission to have a phone, or are considering a next step, there are a number of ways you can limit or monitor their use.
Parental control tools such as Bark and Qustodio may allow you to block access to specific websites while providing alerts for issues such as bullying, predators and sexual content.
Monitoring tools, including inbuilt screen time monitoring apps, can help you track your child’s time spent on specific apps or functions, limiting addiction tendencies.
Most important, however, is to have a conversation with your child about your shared expectations for their phone use, and how they may evolve over time.
“Setting up rules and expectations is important,” Moreno said, “but reviewing those rules and expectations at appropriate intervals is perhaps just as important and often overlooked.”
In the meantime, if you begin to notice changes in your child’s behavior or see cause for concern, be prepared to initiate a discussion and show that you are there to provide support.
“If something goes wrong and you start to see a change in behavior in your child, whether they’re spending more or less time on their devices than usual, getting upset after hours on their phone or going to school or avoiding gathering with your friends, the first thing you should do is reassure them that you are there to listen and help without judgment,” Gardner said.
“Once you know the details you can decide how to take it forward – whether that’s seeking further assistance from the school or the police.”