Before we start this chat off with some preachy, scientific-based but potentially somewhat tone-deaf-to-reality blanket statements, let’s look at what is actually happening with today’s youth.

  • The average age for a child getting their first smartphone is now 10-years-old.
  • 64% of kids have access to the internet via their own devices, compared to 42% in 2012.
  • 39% of kids get a social media account at 11-years-old.

On average, kids in the 4th and 5th grades have their hands on a powerful device that leaves them unsupervised and open to a whole lot of trouble. Whatever trouble they can get into, you can be sure that a phone will magnify that trouble 100x.

Sure, parents of previous generations had to face tough parental decisions. But the advent of smartphones and the connectivity of technology has brought with it even more challenging judgement calls.

And, like any other parenting decision, this is a personal one, driven by family dynamics. There is no one-size-fits-all answer for every family—and there may be different answers for each child in your family. I would put aside concerns about being fair and consistent with your children when it comes to giving a child access to a device that literally connects them with the world – the good and the very, very bad. Your child’s maturity and willingness to accept responsibility should be the driving forces in assessing his or her readiness for a phone.

But if you are looking for that very appropriate and scientific-based set of recommendations to gauge how you make this most important decision, I can tell you this: The longer you wait, the better it is for your child. Medical boards and educational experts universally agree that waiting 12 or 14 years old to give your child a phone, gives them a chance to mature enough to begin to manage the complications that come with a phone: distraction, addiction, cyberbullying, pornography, sexting, child predators and more.

You have heard Savvy Cyber Kids say this before: Parenting in the Digital Age is hard. So, if you are looking for an article or a study or an expert panel to give you the nod of approval for handing over a phone to your child sooner, you are asking the wrong questions. Instead, consider these questions:

  • How well does your child keep track of and treat their personal belongings? Is he or she responsible enough to care for a phone?
  • What responsibilities does your child have already and how well does he or she honor managing those responsibilities?
  • How well does your child understand consequences of actions?
  • Is your child empathetic?
  • Is your child thoughtful or does he or she act without thinking or behave impulsively?
  • Do family dynamics, like your work schedule or your kid’s after-school commitments, create a need for staying in touch with a phone?
  • Have you talked to your child about bullying and digital reputation?
  • Do your kids understand what a friend is—only someone they know in real life—and that anyone else they meet online is a stranger and should always be treated as a stranger?

This is a big decision to make and you should proceed slowly and thoughtfully. Here are some steps you should consider:

  • THE DUMB PHONE: Instead of a ‘smartphone,’ consider starting off with a simple flip phone, one that is not connected to the internet and can only send text messages or place phone calls.
  • FAMILY PHONE RULES: Work with your child to create a unique set of family rules your child must adhere to get and keep a phone. These rules should include giving parents access to all passwords for devices and apps; agreeing to never take or send sexually-charged images (what kids call ‘nudes’); and promising to never, ever try to meet up with a ‘friend’ (or what you as a parent would consider a stranger) from the internet in real life. Other rules to consider are: no devices at the dinner table, putting devices away when friends are visiting; and placing devices out of the bedroom at night.
  • THE NAUGHTY PHONE: Once your child graduates to a smartphone, have a Naughty Phone handy (this, by the way, can be that Dumb Phone you started with) that they will get when they break rules.

Above all, get involved in your child’s digital life. Read Savvy Cyber Kid’s ongoing series, The Parent’s Guide to Technology to get more ideas about helping your child thrive with technology. Have The Tech Talk and make sure your kids see you as a resource to help them navigate their digital world.

Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for our free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.
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