Does My Child Need a Smartphone?

A recent article from reported that the latest research says that on average, a child gets his or her first smartphone at 10.3 years old. That same study shows that by age 12, a full 50 percent of children have social media accounts (primarily Facebook and Instagram).

Sitting around the pool this summer, I heard the parent of a first grader talking about how their child is already pressuring them for a smart phone. A First grader! Which turned into an interesting discussion. When is the best time for a kid to get a smartphone?

Of course, most children want a smartphone, that is less likely the question. But when do they need one? Many parents feel that safety is an issue when it comes to smartphones. When their children start heading out of the house on their own, for longer periods of time or going to various locations throughout the day, parents want a way to check in on them. Payphones and landlines are becoming less common these days, so a personal phone may be the right solution for some families. But, we all know smartphones are never just used for just phone calls to mom and dad. Social media, games, text messaging, and everything a smartphone has to offer- both good and bad- will now be at your child’s fingertips.

Some parents have a rule that their child can have a smartphone as soon as they can pay for it, with the idea that it will teach them to respect the value of money and hard work. Other parents put an age limit or grade limit on when their child can have a smart phone, for example, when they are 12 or when they are in 8thgrade.

Brooke Shannon, a mother who felt the smartphone pressure from her children early told NPR on “All Things Considered” (in 2017) that, “She started an online pledge that she calls “Wait Until 8th” to create a community of parents within each school waiting to give their kids smartphones until at least eighth grade — when most children are out of elementary and nearing high school. So far, more than 4,000 families across the country have signed the online pledge. In addition to wanting her kids to have a break from screens, Brooke worries about the effects, specifically, of social media. “Children just don’t have the brain development at this age to be able to navigate the tricky social situations that come with social media,” she says.”

There is clearly no magic number for when a child will be ready to have a personal smartphone and no two child is exactly alike. Many experts believe it all comes down to the maturity level of the child.  PBS Parents has come up with a list questions to ask yourself before giving a child their first cell phone. They include things like:

1. Do your children “need” to be in touch for safety reasons–or social ones?

2. Can they get behind the concept of limits for minutes talked and apps downloaded?

3. Can they be trusted not to text during class, disturb others with their conversations, and to use the text, photo, and video functions responsibly (and not to embarrass or harass others)?

Project B3 knows we all want what is best for our kids. But, giving into our children’s desire for a smartphone just because “everyone else has one” may not be the best parenting strategy. Definitely weigh the pros and cons and take their maturity level into account before allowing them to have access to their own smartphone. We think it is worth noting that tech genius Bill Gates did not give his own children smartphones until they were in high school.