By Kia McCarthy, NP
Department of Pediatrics
For many parents, deciding when to give their child their first smartphone can cause more than a little anxiety. After all, a smartphone gives your child instant access to the Internet, and potentially social media, all of which come with some well-documented dangers. It’s no wonder this decision makes so many parents nervous!
Before giving your child a smartphone, it’s important to consider your child’s readiness for access to this powerful technology. Because all children are different, there is no universal age when a child is prepared to responsibly handle having a smartphone. Your decision should be based on your child’s maturity level. Unlike other technologies your child has been exposed to, a child can have access to their smartphone for many hours a day. It’s inherently more difficult for patients to observe what their children are doing on their smartphones. Many parents dread this diminished level of control, yet they see the practical usefulness of a smart phone and realize that the decision can’t be put off forever. So before giving your child a smartphone, both parents and children need to be well prepared.
Here’s some tips and advice to consider:
Does your child have a strong sense of responsibility and impulse control?
Unless you put in access and time restrictions (which is a good idea!), a smartphone will give your child access to texting, social media apps, and the Internet at all times day and night. This will add new distractions and possibly a lot of drama to their young lives. It’s important for parents to wait until they feel their child is truly ready for all this. Smartphone apps can also be addictive and distract your child from their schoolwork if they do not have the self-control to turn them off.
Is your child responsible enough to carry a pricey cell phone?
Think for a moment, is your child highly organized or do they tend to lose anything that’s not directly attached to them? If the answer is the latter, you may want to wait on getting them an expensive, easily breakable or misplaced smartphone.
Is your child socially mature?
A typical child in middle school will sometimes show poor judgement in social situations. Owning a smartphone requires good judgement about what information to share publicly and what to keep private. A smartphone also gives a child access to an intense amount of social visibility through various apps and websites. Make sure they have the emotional maturity and judgement to handle all the exposure that a cellphone brings. Also consider whether your child is mature enough to involve you or another trusted adult if they run into a problem online.
Consider restrictions on usage.
If you do decide to get a smartphone for your child, you will need to take steps to support safe and positive media use. This will entail enabling parental controls, as well as settings, timers, and filters that are available on both devices and apps. It’s a good idea to set these up together with your child, explain the reasons behind them, and review them regularly as your child gets older and becomes more mature and independent.
Kids can have a phone without social media.
For younger children especially, you may want to consider restricting apps such as TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat on their smartphone. You can permit your child to add these apps when you feel they are ready for them. This will allow your child to enjoy the communication benefits of having a smartphone without a lot of the problems they can bring.
Remember there are alternatives.
It doesn’t take a smartphone to stay in touch with your child – other types of phones and communication devices can do that. So, if you feel your child isn’t ready for a smartphone quite yet, you should consider a simpler phone (such as a flip-phone) which are still available. Programs like Wait Until 8th empower families to work together to delay smartphone purchases until 8th grade or beyond. There is a link to smartphone alternatives on their website designed to allow only texting and calling.
You should decide what’s best for your child.
As a parent, you are the most equipped to make the important decision about when your child needs a smartphone. All children mature differently and will be ready at different times for that all-important first phone. It’s up to you to make the best choice for your family, not your child!
About Kia McCarthy, NP
A graduate of Connecticut College and Simmons College, Kia started her career as a nurse in 2004. “I have nurses in my family and have been very lucky to work with extremely dedicated and talented nurse practitioners during my career,” she explains. “When the opportunity presented itself to expand my knowledge as a nurse practitioner to provide more comprehensive care, I decided to jump right in.”
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