Age For Your Child’s First Cell Phone

A local New Jersey story this week featured a quote from a child psychologist, Dr. Steven Tobias, that we have a real problem with. The quote, which was offered when discussing the appropriate age to give a child his or her first cell phone:

“Whenever the parent wants their child to stop making eye contact with them and not talk to them anymore, that is when they should get the kid a cell phone, because that is often what happens. The kid’s face is in the phone all of the time, you go out to dinner, you are at the dinner table, and they are using the phone. I have been in practice for a while now, and I can tell you that right now, about 50 percent of the conflicts within the family ha[ve] to do with technology, cell phones, iPads, things like that.”

We have way more faith in parents – and teens and tweens – than Dr. Tobias does. Just because a parent gives a child a phone, doesn’t mean the kid can use it whenever he wants.

If you’re wondering what is actually happening these days in terms of parents giving their kids smartphones, you’re in luck. A new survey titled Influence Central’s 2016 Digital Trends Study gives a very good rundown. The survey was conducted by Influence Central and polled 500 moms in February of this year. Results were compared to a similar survey conducted by the group in 2012.

child iPhoneThe highlights:

  • The average age for kids getting their first phone is 10.3 year old (this feels about right to us)
  • The number of parents who use the phone’s GPS to track their kids’ location has more than doubled – 15% vs. 7% in 2012
  • 27% of parents use filters to control what content kids access on their phones
  • 34% of families use the parental controls built into the phones, and huge increase from 14% in 2012
  • 45% of kids use phones for entertainment in car trips
  • 38% of kids can access the internet via their phone (we’re guessing this is actually much higher)
  • 50% of kids have at least one social media account by the age of 12 (the minimum age is 13), while 11% of kids have a social media account before they turn 10-years old

One area where we agree with Dr. Tobias is his statement that the maturity level of the child is more important than his age when deciding on a first phone. As a parent, you are best qualified to decide when that is.

Giving your child her first phone doesn’t have to mean that you’re in for a constant struggle. Here’s what to do:

  • Talk about the risks – predator risk, identity theft, cyberbullying, whatever your hot button issue is – before you say yes to the phone, and regularly thereafter.
  • Put parental restrictions on the phone before it hits your child’s hands. You can restrict app downloads (entirely or by age limit), select approved ratings for music, TV shows and movies, restrict access to certain websites, turn off location settings and much more.
  • Is social media permitted? If you’ve implemented parental controls, you can say yes or no to each app download.
  • Have a set of rules for what is okay and what isn’t – when she can use her phone and for how long, what she can do, what she must not do, who she can contact, who can contact her.
  • Have a plan for what will happen if your child feels unsafe or is unsure of something.


If your teen or tween already has a phone, we can help. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!



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