Not so long ago, most parents were worried about the age at which they should allow their children to take driving lessons or get full access to a set of car keys.
Now we have an even trickier question to consider – when should our children own their own smartphone?
The Smartphone Issue
The smartphone is more than just a way to stay in touch with parents and family, after all – it delivers unfettered access to the internet, as well as all the benefits and dangers that come with it.
While there’s legal guidance available to highlight when a child should start driving, there’s not as much help available for parents wondering when to deliver their child’s first phone.
We do know, however, that the average age is getting younger. One research firm found that children are now getting their first smartphone at the age of 10.
Measuring the Pros and Cons of Smartphones
It seems as though everyone has a smartphone these days – but are these devices safe for your little ones?
There are so many worrying reports out there that it’s difficult for any parent to feel completely comfortable about giving their child access to a phone.
After all, smartphones come with things like worrying about radiation, and the potential to harm your child’s sleep by keeping them up at night.
Pediatricians are seeing evidence that cellphones could disrupt a child’s sleeping patterns significantly, leading to emotional and physical repercussions.
Not only do we have health concerns to think about as parents, but there’s also the constant threat of things like cyberbullying, and the dangers of unsupervised browsing on the internet.
It’s becoming easier than ever for children to speak to strangers using nothing but their phones and an app like Instagram or Facebook.
However, despite the worries associated with smartphones, the devices are still considered an overwhelmingly positive addition to our society.
After all, they ensure that you always have a way to connect with your children and check on them throughout the day – even when you’re at work, and they’re at school.
If your child walks home alone from school, you know that they can reach you when they need to. They can also share their live location with you so you can be sure they are safe.
Although there are many apps not appropriate for children, there are also hundreds of apps that give children the incredible opportunity to learn and develop with a smartphone.
Educational apps can help children to expand their minds, develop better academic skills, and even strengthen their confidence.
For your child, having a phone delivers unbeatable security as well as a significant boost in self-esteem.
So, how do you find the right time to give your child this crucial piece of tech?
Smartphones Are More than Just Phones
Perhaps the first thing that parents need to recognize when deciding when to give their children access to smartphones today is that these devices are so much more than a way to call or text.
Today’s phones also put social media, games, television, internet access and more in the hands of your child.
The diverse and varied features of the modern smartphone can be both a positive and negative thing at the same time.
For instance, social interaction is a must-have for any child. Connecting with friends over social media allows your youngster to develop crucial skills and build meaningful relationships.
However, there’s also the potential for cyberbullying, harassment, and other dangers online too.
At the same time, while some apps can help to build your child’s concentration and proficiencies, others can leave your youngster constantly distracted and make it difficult for them to focus on their studies.
The two-sided nature of smartphone usage means that there’s more than just age to consider.
While some children may be ready to embrace the responsibility that a smartphone has to offer when they’re 10 or 11, others won’t be ready until their 13 or 14.
Maturity and the ability to understand the capacity of the phone is more important than a child’s numerical age.
Looking Beyond Age for Guidance
Ultimately, as parents, we want our children to be independent, happy, and capable.
However, it’s also our responsibility to make sure that we don’t pile too much pressure on a child at once.
The best thing you can do when deciding when to offer your child a smartphone is to consider their specific situation.
- For instance, does your child constantly lose their belongings or make mistakes, or are they generally a responsible child?
- Will your youngster follow the rules that you set on using their smartphone safely?
- Will they understand the dangers of not following your instructions?
Additionally, think about whether your child needs a phone.
If your youngster just wants to text their friends, then a smartphone may not be necessary yet.
However, if they’re also walking home alone from school each day, then you might be more tempted to give them a mode of communication at an earlier age.
When you’re ready to take the plunge, make sure that you put the right guidelines in place.
- You should always know the password to your child’s phone and be able to take the device away if it isn’t being used properly.
- Setting limits on screen and phone time can help to ensure that your child’s phone doesn’t disrupt their learning, studying, or sleeping periods.
- Determine the consequences of what will happen if the phone is lost or broken to ensure that your child takes care of their belongings.
- Monitoring the social media sites that your children use and the other sites that they visit can help you to protect them from some of the more dangerous parts of the internet. Consider adding a child block feature to the phone if possible.
- Remind your child that they shouldn’t be reliant on text and phone for all conversations. Face-to-face communication should still be an essential part of your child’s life.
One thing you should avoid doing is trying to constantly stay up to date on everything your child does – especially as they grow older.
Even though you might not like it, they have a right to privacy too. Invading it too much will have the opposite effect of the one you are trying to achieve: instead of being closer to your child, you might drive them away and make them better at hiding stuff from you.
Making the Most of the Smartphone Era
Different parents will put specific rules and guidelines in place depending on the nature and needs of their children.
The key to success when giving your child a smartphone is understanding that child, and how responsible they can be with their new technology.
If you believe that your child is emotionally mature enough to use a phone wisely, then their actual age won’t matter much.
However, it will still be important to put the right guidelines in place to guide your child as he or she takes the next step on their journey into the digital age.
Just make sure to let them figure some things out on their own too.
Ashley Wilson is a digital nomad and writer for hire, specialized in business and tech topics. In her self-care time, she practices yoga via Youtube. She has been known to reference movies in casual conversation and enjoys trying out new food. You can get in touch with Ashley via Twitter.