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When Should Kids Have Smartphones?

Written by Jakeen Johnson, M.D. on Mar 31, 2018, 8:52:00 AM

With the advancement of smartphones, the questions parents have about maturity, safety, and the necessity of technology for their kids are becoming trickier to answer. Many parents want to know what age might be appropriate for their child to start using a smartphone, because many children today have one as early as first grade. While I can't tell you the exact age at which your child should start using this technology, I can help give you some guidelines to factor into your decision.

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First, Consider Whether Your Child Is Ready

First, how mature is your child? Are they the kind of child who comes home from school and immediately does their homework? How are they with accountability? When you give them an assignment or a task, do they complete it without much prompting? How do they interact with other adults, children, or their own family members? How are they with processing new information? The bottom line is you know the maturity level of your child better than anyone else. 

Also consider whether there’s a real need for your child to have a phone. Smartphones can be excellent safety tools if properly monitored by parents. If your child has a medical issue, having a phone for medical emergencies might give some peace of mind.

If your child needs a phone for safety, does it HAVE to be a smartphone?  Smartphones are computers and can be dangerous avenues for predators to reach your child if not carefully supervised. Along with smartphones comes the pressure some children have from access to social media and the need to "post "and "like" instead of focusing on their wonderful characteristics that make them who they are.

I personally am following the "wait till 8" motto in my own home...waiting until 8th grade before my oldest gets a phone. I know where he is during the day and he knows where I am during the day. If he needs me, he can use the school receptionist's phone to reach me. 

Set Boundaries

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As with any major change in a child's life that involves maturity and trust, if you're going to buy your child a smartphone, it's important to set boundaries from the get-go. Doing so will plainly lay out your expectations, and neglecting to do it may actually set them up to fail. Consider setting limits on the amount of time they can spend on their phone. Make sure they are aware of which sites they are allowed to visit and which games they are allowed to play. Setting up a list of allowed sites and games might make it easier than giving them a list of sites they are not allowed to be on. There are apps that can typically be purchased from your service provider that allow parental controls to be enacted, which can make this entire process much easier. 

Buy Them Only What They Need

Most research shows that children as young as first grade are typically the first age group to have a smartphone. The age at which your child is mature enough for a phone is not something for me to decide, however there are some age-related things to keep in mind when purchasing your child’s first phone. Namely, buy only what they need. If you're purchasing a phone for your 8-year-old to call you when they get out of soccer practice or when they're leaving their friend's house, they don't need a camera. They don't need Internet access. In fact, they probably just need a bare-bones phone with calling capabilities. If they want a camera, purchase one separately. 

Whatever you decide, the most important thing to do is lay out a set of rules before your child even has their phone, explain that you expect them to maintain the guidelines you set forth and keep the lines of communication between the both of you open at all times. 


Dr. Jakeen Johnson is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Summer Creek Clinic. Her areas of clinical interest include childhood obesity, nutrition, asthma, and allergies.



Topics: kids and smartphones, wait till 8

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