This is a tricky question, so I asked for input from my friends who have older children: at what age should kids have Smartphones? The responses I got all agreed on one thing: A cell phone and a smartphone are two different things, requiring two different answers.
Cell phones are here to stay
Most of the moms I talked to either thought they would get their children cell phones (or already had) in later middle school or high school. Twelve and 13 were common ages. Safety and communication were the top reasons. One mom has a son that has Type 1 diabetes, so as he got older (he’s 13) and spent more time away from home and other supervised activities, she wanted him to be able to contact her if he had a medical issue. Another mom got her son a phone at age 12 after she dropped him and a friend at a skate park and his friend broke his arm, and they weren’t able to reach her. Other parents that had kids involved in sports gave them cell phones so they could let them know when they needed to be picked up. Another friend has a daughter that is starting to babysit, and some of the homes she will be in do not have land lines, so her mom wanted her to have a cell phone in case of emergency. Other parents have held out longer. I didn’t hear from anyone who got their kid a phone any younger than 11 and many who waited longer.
So most parents (except for a few holdouts) acknowledged that their kids needed a cell phone for various reasons by middle school. However, there is a solution for those parents, too, that doesn’t involve giving their child a cell phone, but rather adding a “family” phone to their plan. They can purchase a basic cell phone and keep it on a shelf and give it to whatever child needs it for a short period. That way, the number doesn’t belong to any one child (reducing the frequency of friend texts and calls), yet the child can communicate when they are out of the house.
WiFi devices and basic phones
Some parents buy their kids basic phones to use outside the house, but allow them ipods or ipads with wifi connectivity to use at home. This helps them keep a closer eye on their online use, the kids can still participate in social media, it keeps the monthly online bill down and keeps their online use down a little bit, too.
Smartphones are a privilege, not a necessity
So, what about that smartphone? Now so many adults have smartphones it seems natural to think that you would get your child one when it comes time for them to have a cell phone, but as many parents pointed out – a basic cell phone will keep them connected by phone and text. Do they really need anything else?
Nearly all of the parents I talked to said that finances and the maturity level of their child both played big factors in their decision to get a smartphone. Many parents didn’t want to shoulder the more expensive plan that smartphones require, not to mention the cost of the device itself. Several parents expected their kids to help pay for the phone in some manner along with the monthly bill. Their kids also had to show a degree of maturity when using the phone. They had to understand the dangers of social media, what pictures are appropriate for sharing, when it’s acceptable to take pictures or videos of others, how much data they were allowed each month and what would happen if they ran over. They also laid down rules about when texting was allowed (not at the dinner table, not while driving, not during homework time). Violations resulted in taking the phone away (some got nothing, some replaced it with a pay-as-you-go basic model during the punishment).
For some, their family budget just won’t stretch to include a smartphone and some just choose not to. One parent said his kids could get any phone they could pay for once they were 18, and another friend says it’s just not an expense that she would pay for, either.
Prolonging an Unplugged Childhood
Finally, there are parents who want to hang on to this time with their kids when they are not consumed with being online, staring at a screen and texting with their friends. The parents that I talked to whose kids do have smartphones all said this was a problem. I confess that some days I realize that I am online too much, and I worry about us becoming that family that sits together, but we are all staring at our phones and not talking. Smartphones are really great in so many ways, but there is something to be said for together time. Kids grow up so fast already, many parents are going the other way and insisting on less online time.
As with all parenting questions, you are the best person to decide when your child should have a smartphone, but these are just some things to keep in mind.