Navigating parenthood is already challenging, but when you throw in devices and social media, it can feel impossible to make all the right parenting decisions. One of those serious decisions is when your child should get a phone. On the one hand, it’s a comfort to know they can reach you quickly in an emergency, but on the other hand, it can open up access to more than you can supervise at all times. Your mind may flash to visions of them texting constantly, or playing a video game incessantly. While you question the right age of maturity for the responsibility a phone might be, there are some important factors to consider.
So, is there a magic age when kids are ready to get a phone?
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Most common ages kids get phones
Like most answers in parenting, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. However, according to the Pew Research Center, the milestone age ranges from 12 to 14, with 45% of parents surveyed saying that was the acceptable phone ownership age in their eyes. Less than 22% of parents believed anyone under the age of 12 should own a phone. Around that age, most children start to experience a little more independence, making it a popular age amongst parents who want to be sure their kids can stay connected in case of an emergency.
The thing about social media
Another factor to consider is that at 13 years of age, children are legally allowed to have social media accounts on nearly all social networking platforms. That shouldn’t influence your parenting decisions, but it’s a milestone age your child may be looking forward to joining popular social media apps like Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook along with their friends and other students at school. It could become a good opportunity to teach them boundaries around healthy online presence and screen time.
Mental health considerations
A common safety concern and question amongst parents is the effect of tech and screen time on their child’s mental health and well-being. If you feel like the time may be right for a mobile device but are concerned about boundaries, consider having a conversation with your kid about the responsibilities of owning a cell phone. You could have an agreement laid out upfront about the expectations and rules that will be in place. While it may be bittersweet to feel like they’re entering a new era of adolescence, it’s important to use first-time phone ownership as a foundational lesson on healthy habits that can help them in the long run.
You know your child best, so only you will know when they’re ready for a phone. While many families are giving their kids the latest iPhones at younger ages these days, you get to set the terms of when your child will. Many valid concerns stretch both ways. Privacy issues and social media addiction can be daunting to think about, but so can the idea that they can’t reach you during an emergency. When you feel they have a clear sense of responsibility and enough independence to warrant getting a phone is up to you.
But it is worth noting some resources make it easier for parents to limit phone and internet access, like parental controls. And setting those boundaries and agreements with technology upfront can prevent your young adolescent from crossing any lines and having full access to their cell. Even though giving a phone for the first time can feel like giving away some of your control, it’s important to remember that it can be taken away when you feel there’s a problem or they’ve abused the privilege.
It’s tough making the call about when they’re ready for a phone. There are many variables, so while 12 to 14 is the popular choice, that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for your kid. Only you know if they’re ready or if there’s good cause for them to have one. You can think of a mobile phone as a tool your child has to learn – it has clear benefits but also brings with it some drawbacks just like anything else.
They can’t be babies forever, and it’s important to remember that now is your opportunity to guide them lovingly and support them in an increasingly digital world. Communicate openly, set boundaries, and even take things a step further by modeling a healthy relationship with devices so your child can get an education on how to use tech well just by watching you.