When Should Kids Get a Cellphone? 6 Questions to Ask
It seems like everywhere you look, there’s a child with a cell phone. Even if they’re young, there’s a good chance that the phone belongs to them. If your child doesn’t have one, they’re probably asking you when they’re going to get their first smartphone. Studies show that more than half of children have their first smartphone by the time they’re 11 years old with that number jumping to 69% for 12-year-olds.
But that doesn’t mean that you need to run out and get your child one if they’re that age and don’t own their own iPhone or Android yet. Many parents grapple with the cell phone issue because they don’t know when is the right age for a child to have his own phone. There are many variables to consider when it comes to getting your child their first cell phone. We’re going to break down some questions that you may be asking yourself as you decide the right age for your child to have their own phone.
Questions to Ask Before Getting Your Child Their Own Phone
1. Does Your Child Need a Phone?
As adults, we all know the difference between needs and wants. But a child in middle school or even younger kids may be able to distinguish the difference. Because a friend has a phone doesn’t equal your child needing a phone.
If you and your child are not often apart beyond school hours, a cell phone may not be a serious necessity. But, if your child has a lot of extracurricular activities, a cell phone could be useful during emergencies and as a convenient way to communicate with you. If you feel your child is too young for text messages and internet access, mobile phones that only allow phone calls are available. With these phones, you don’t have to worry about social media apps like Snapchat and Facebook, but your child can still make important phone calls to you.
2. Is Your Child Responsible Enough for a Cell Phone?
Your child’s maturity level is going to be a good gauge as to when the right age for a cell phone is. Will he be able to keep track of where it is and take good care of it, or are you worried he'll drop it in the toilet the first day he has it? If he brings it to school, will he follow his school rules on where and when it can be used? Will he use the ability to text, take pictures, and record videos responsibly and not as a way to embarrass or harass others? Ask yourself all of these questions and have a discussion with your child about responsible technology use, before handing over a new phone. Remind your child that having a cell phone is a privilege.
3. Does She Understand the Safety Issues?
Smartphone use means more than making a call these days. With internet access, children can access inappropriate content even at a young age. They can also become victims of online predators and cyberbullying. These are issues you need to discuss with your child as well as texting and while texting and driving for the older crowd.
If you want to keep an extra eye on what your child is doing with their first cell phone, there are parental controls you can put in place. Android users can download the Google Family Link App. This allows you to put restrictions on your child’s phone use. Everything from the content they are accessing to the apps they can install can be controlled by you.
If your child has an iPhone, there are also parental controls you can take advantage of. Through your settings, you can set content and privacy restrictions as well as limit screen time.
4. Does Your Child Understand the Cost?
All cell phone plans are different. While some offer unlimited text messages and minutes, others offer only a set number of minutes, texts, and data per month. If they exceed the limit, you will get charged.
Apps, music, and movie downloads can also cost more if your child downloads them without your knowledge. Some options to help control costs include prepaid or postpaid phones, accessing parental controls offered by your carrier to help control costs, and setting a monthly budget for your child. Be sure to instill consequences, like revoking phone privileges, if they go over any monthly budget you set.
5. Which Functions Are Appropriate?
When you get your child their first cell phone, you may decide that they don’t need all the bells and whistles like internet access, text messages, videos, and more. You can also decide whether you want them to have access to social media on their phones. If the phone is truly for communication with you, you may consider a device without all of the added capabilities, or at minimum, know what you can do to help keep his usage safe and appropriate by using some of the parental controls we mentioned above.
6. How Can I Keep My Child's Phone Usage Safe and Under Control?
Parents have different comfort levels when it comes to how much screen time their children should have when they have a phone. Statistics show that about 35% of children spend between 1-2 hours on their phones every day. About 15% spend more than four hours on it daily. For some parents that is just too much time.
You can put time limits on your child’s phone usage, especially when it comes to internet access. Simply go into the settings on the phone and follow the prompts for screen time and app limits.
As a parent, there are also many apps you can download to keep an eye on what your child is doing on their phone. Family Orbit is one such app that allows you to see phone records and text messages as well as see what else they’re accessing online. Kaspersky Safe Kids is another useful app that lets you block certain YouTube searches as well as see your child’s Facebook activity. This can give you peace of mind by allowing you to see what they’re posting and who they’re friends with on social media.
Besides tracking their online activity, you can also track where they are with their cell phone. Google Maps allows you to see others’ mobile locations without them knowing. Once you go to the menu, click on location sharing. Make sure you click on the “share your real-time location until you turn this off” option. Once you select your phone to share the location with, you can track their phone’s location.
Mobile phone carriers also offer services to keep an eye on your family members’ phones. They let you access the location data from your mobile, tablet, or PC. There are also apps like Life360 that allow parents to see where their children are going in real-time. There’s pretty much an app for everything when it comes to parental controls. Decide what areas you want to be able to access and download the appropriate app. You can also check out these apps that will allow you to track your child's mobile activity.
The Bottom Line
While you can download every app in the world, there’s no substitute for an honest and open conversation about the potential dangers that come along with having a cell phone. Discuss topics like cyberbullying, sexting, and accessing inappropriate content. As they get older, it’s also important to introduce topics like texting and driving. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about a specific topic with your child regarding phone usage, perhaps it’s not the right time for them to have a phone.
Don’t forget to educate yourself on what social media apps are popular with tweens and teens so that you’re not left out in the dark. There’s nothing scarier than not being aware of what your child may be accessing with their new phone.
- Patel, Khyati. New study shows cell phone use among kids has nearly doubled since 2015. 2019.
- Taylor, Petroc. How much time per day do kids spend on their phone?. 2023.