It’s common for kids to have cell phones these days. But if you ask any parent what the appropriate age is to give a child their first cell phone, you will get a lot of different answers.
With the wide digital access that phones provide – internet, apps, social media – parents should carefully weigh if their child is ready for that kind of responsibility and exposure.
Consider age appropriateness when deciding whether to allow your child to have one, says pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw at Eugene Pediatric Associates.
“It’s different than a computer at home, because it’s with them at all times and it’s with them outside of your house, out of your view. Oftentimes parents aren’t aware what is happening on their kid’s cell phone,” she says.
So, what is an appropriate age for a child’s first cell phone? Dr Bradshaw says it depends on the child and their unique strengths and weaknesses. Questions to consider:
- Are they truly responsible?
- Do they make good decisions?
- Do they remember and follow the advice that parents provide?
- Are they more likely to struggle with decisions in the moment or give in to impulses?
Dr. Bradshaw adds, “They could be a kid who’s so innocent that they might become a target through their cell phone.”
Make an informed decision, set boundaries
If your child wants a phone purely for social connections but you aren’t sure if they’re quite ready, think about other ways they can connect with their friends. Or consider a phone that allows for communication without internet access.
“Am I making my child feel left out by not having the fanciest possible cell phone? My answer is always ‘no.’ You’re making a great choice, and I always encourage parents to wait as many years as possible – eighth or ninth grade – before giving your child a cell phone,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “And when you do, it needs to be something that you educate yourself about first, then sit down as a family and really talk about the rules associated with that phone.”
Some boundaries for cell phone use that Dr. Bradshaw suggests:
- Dock the cell phone away from your child’s workspace during homework time. Homework takes much longer when a cell phone is nearby to distract your child.
- Dock the cell phone during mealtimes, and that goes for parents, too. Focus instead on in-person family interaction during mealtimes.
- Don’t allow the cell phone in your child’s bedroom; access to a cell phone in the bedroom is a leading cause of lack of sleep in young people.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and AT&T have created a “Phone Ready Questionnaire” to help parents decide whether their child is ready for the responsibilities of having a cell phone. You can access the questionnaire here.