10 is the average age a child in the UK gets their first smartphone. Steve Jobs famously limited how much technology his kids used, even prohibiting them from using the iPad. How did we come to a situation where, as young as nine, children are receiving a smartphone with internet access and the ability to use apps four years before the recommended age?
The answer is normalisation. And with normalisation comes pressure. Pressure from the child wanting to have what their friends have (understandably) and pressure on the parents who don’t want their child to be left out. Again, understandably. The parenting cycle of shame, guilt, and worry makes us vulnerable to giving in to demands, and a smartphone is no exception.
When should your child get a phone?
So how can you determine when you AND your child are “ready” for them to have a smart phone? There is not a one glove fits all approach. Though a good place to start is to consider these eight points:
1. Explore the reason behind getting a phone in the first place
If it’s to keep in touch for logistics and safety, consider getting a basic flip phone without access to the internet. If it’s fear of them missing out, talk to other parents in their class ahead of time and find out their views and values towards smartphones. Chances are they probably share the same concerns that you have!
2. How well do they look after their belongings?
Are they regularly losing and breaking things? If they are, this might be too large a commitment for them and the person footing the bill.
3. Does your child respect your rules in the household?
Is there already a strong connection and level of trust between you? If so, you’re a step closer.
4. Does your child find it hard to put down their other devices?
Are you already battling screen time? If so, adding a smartphone into the mix right now may not be helpful.
5. Do you have the capacity to monitor their use?
Do you have the headspace and time to monitor a smartphone and ensure your child is taught how to use them safely and responsibly. This should be an ongoing process, not a one-time conversation. Are you ready for that commitment?
6. Consider the mental health effects
There has been wide reporting on the correlation between the rise in mental health in young people and smartphone use (Twenge). Using credible research, read up on the potential effects of smartphones on development and wellbeing so you can make an informed decision.
7. Understand the implications of social media access
Smartphones have become synonymous with social media apps. Thus, if you are considering when to give your child a smartphone, understanding some of the effects of access to platforms, such as TikTok and YouTube, is necessary.
8. What are your current goals for your child?
Evaluate how a smartphone fits in and whether it will steer them towards or against your vision for their development and wellbeing.
Preparing for smartphone readiness
If you decide that you and your child are “ready” for them to have a smartphone, here’s your to-do list.
- Think about any rules you plan to enforce regarding screen time limit, type of content, where and when the phone may be used, and so on. Consider writing a smartphone contract between the parent(s) and the child, setting your rules, so expectations are clear. You might also add what the consequences may be if rules are broken.
- Try out the popular apps and games so you can see first-hand if they are appropriate for your child.
- Research parental controls and ensure you understand how to apply them.
- Read up about pornography, online grooming, cyberbullying, and unrealistic body imagery, so that you can be prepared for those conversations should they arise further down. The more informed you are now, the more you are better equipped to answer questions or spot the signs when things are not ok.
- Make sure to have regular conversations about their phone use so that you are part of their online lives too. If that means doing a TikTok duo, then so be it!
Each child and parent will have their own unique timescale of readiness. One thing for certain, smartphone decisions needs to be thought out. You’re bound to hear, “….but mum, everyone in my class has one!” “It’s no big deal!” It IS a commitment AND a responsibility for both child and parent, so don’t take it lightly. You would never hand them over keys to a car without instruction and monitoring; same applies to this. And remember, the smartphone is a privilege; it is not a right.
Read more about the effects of screen time on brain development or discover our tips on how to improve focus in the face of technology.