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Classful

Most children think they’re ready for a phone before their parents do.

By the time your child is in Middle School, they may already know other children who have phones, and they’ll likely frequently remind you of this fact. But there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to what age is right for a child to have his or her first phone. It depends on your child’s maturity and whether you think they understand the risks and dangers of having their own phone.

Some families buy their children a phone because circumstances require it. For example, if your child has to walk alone to school every day, you might feel that a phone will keep them safer. Understanding the pros and cons of buying a child a phone and how to prepare your child for their first phone can make it easier to decide whether now is the right time to buy your kid a phone.

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At what age do most children get a phone?

Most children are ready to own a phone by 12 or 13. This coincides with the age at which children are allowed on social media and the age at which children are independent enough to be left at home alone for brief periods. By 12 or 13, many of your child’s friends at school will likely have their smartphones.

Some children may be ready for a phone at a younger age, from around age 9. This may be necessary if your child is often out of the house alone or playing with friends, and you want to be able to stay in contact with them. If your child isn’t mature enough to own a smartphone at this age, you could buy them a simpler cell phone for texting and calling instead.

Children under 9 or 10 are rarely mature enough to own a smartphone. A smartwatch or a GPS tracker may help parents keep track of their children when they’re playing out with friends or walking to school at this age.

Is your child ready for a phone?

Children mature and develop at different paces. While some kids may be able to own and use a smartphone from the age of 11 or 12 without any negative consequences, others may struggle to find a healthy balance when using their smartphones at this age. This is because smartphones allow your child to connect with peers and friends 24/7 via the internet, which can be beneficial socially and open your child up to online harassment and bullying.

Before you buy your child a phone, think about whether they’re ready to take on the responsibility that being connected 24/7 entails. Some questions that you can ask yourself when considering whether your child is ready for a phone include:

  • Does your child know how to look after valuable possessions?
  • Does your child understand how to stay safe online?
  • Does your child accept limits on screen time and devices?
  • Is your child able to regulate their emotions and stay calm when provoked?
  • Does your child usually follow the rules you set?
  • How easily does your child pick up on social cues?

If you don’t think they’re ready for a smartphone yet, but you want them to be able to contact you in an emergency, you could buy them an essential handset for sending texts and making calls instead.

Smartphones and ADHD

Kids with ADHD are especially vulnerable when using smartphones. This is because they’re often more impulsive than other children and can less control their emotions and actions. They may get addicted to mobile games or use social media websites to post things they shouldn’t.

Smartphones offer a lot of distractions to children and teenagers. If they’re not checking their social media feeds, they’re playing mobile games, posting statuses, checking their emails, or watching videos online. These distractions may make it especially hard for children with ADHD and other attention disorders to focus on schoolwork, household chores, and self-care.

Parents of children with ADHD should be cautious when introducing smartphones into their child’s life. You may have to introduce stricter limits on screen time to help your child to moderate their smartphone usage.

Using parental controls to keep your child safe

If you think your child is ready to own their first phone, there are steps that you can take to keep your child safe and moderate their smartphone usage. Parental controls are controls you can set on devices like smartphones and tablets to limit your child’s usage of specific apps or their total time on the device. It’s possible to use parental controls to:

  • Limit how much time your child spends on a particular app
  • Restrict what kind of content your child can browse online
  • Block adult websites, videos, and podcasts
  • Restrict interactions within multiplayer online games
  • Set screen time limits

When your child is 11 or 12, you might use parental controls to restrict your child’s smartphone usage to keep them safe online and prevent them from accessing adult content. As your child ages, you can gradually adjust parental controls to allow them more freedom online if you feel they’re mature enough for this.

Rules to set when getting your child their first phone

Whether your child is 9, 12, or 15, there should be rules to help them regulate their smartphone usage and look after their new device. You must have a conversation with your child before they get a phone to let them know your expectations regarding smartphone usage. You should tell them:

  • What is the phone to be used for, and what it’s not to be used for
  • How do you expect them to behave online
  • How to look after their phone
  • Whether Will there be any screen time limitations in place
  • How much money is available to cover data, texts, and calls
  • When a smartphone is not to be used

Many families choose to have a ‘no phones at the dinner table’ rule or similar. This sets aside a brief period every evening for your family to come together without screens and discuss their day.

It’s also important to keep an eye on your child’s smartphone usage and monitor them for changes in temperament or behavior. Check-in with your child regularly and stay alert to signs of anxiety, depression, and stress that could be triggered partially by smartphone usage or social media. If you notice any differences in your child, encourage them to talk with you and share their feelings, and consider setting up stricter parental controls if necessary.