The Right Age for Your Child’s First Smartphone

We often get questions related to how old a child “should” be when he or she gets his or her own smartphone, tablet or other personal electronic device. Our answer is almost always, “It depends” – it depends on the maturity of the child, what she needs it for and a host of other factors.

There is new data out of the UK that shows that, nor surprisingly, the average age for kids getting their first device is getting younger. UK regulator Ofcom publishes regular surveys about a host of digital parenting issues, and a look at the 2016 data compared to 2015 paints the device ownership picture pretty well.

iphone-2016In 2016:

  • 41% of kids aged 5 – 15 own their own smartphone, vs. 35% in 2015
  • The most dramatic increase was among 8 – 11 year olds, with a third more kids getting their own smartphone. 32% own their own device vs. 24% on 2015
  • In the 12 – 15 year old group, numbers rose to 79% in 2016 vs. 69% on 2015

So, if your child is 10 – 12 years old, it may be almost true when he says, “All of my friends have a phone”.

Tablet ownership is skewing younger as well:

  • 44% of kids aged 5 – 15 own their own tablet, up from 40% in 2015
  • Toddlers are getting in the game as well, with 16% of 3 – 4 year olds having their own tablet
  • 32% of 5 – 7 year olds own their own tablet
  • 49% of 8 – 15 year olds own their own tablet

The ownership trends are clear – up to the age of 10, kids are more likely to own a tablet. After age 10, tablet ownership declines, and smartphone ownership rises quickly.

If your child is aged 8 – 12, how do you decide whether she is ready for her first smartphone? Here are some of the questions that you might want to ask yourself:

  • Is your child mature enough to put it the device when appropriate?
  • Does she need a phone so that you can keep in touch?
  • Is your child able to identify potential risks when she sees them?
  • Are you ready to have tough conversations with her in advance, about sexting, cyberbullying and predator risk?
  • Is she willing to turn to you for guidance if she finds herself in an uncertain situation?
  • Are you willing to have a set of rules in place, and enforce them?

Handing over a smartphone to a child, knowing that much of the use will be unsupervised, is a tough decision, but one that every parent is forced to make at some point. If you’ve had a difficult or encouraging experience in your household, feel free to leave a comment below.


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Sexting – What if a School Employee Finds Your Phone

If you haven’t had a talk with your teens or pre teens about the dangers of sexting, a story in the news this week might get their attention.

teen-sextingAccording to the story, a Wichita high school student reported a missing phone, and a school resource officer responded to the report. While investigating, the resource officer came across a student with two phones and obviously thought that the extra phone could be the one. While trying to ascertain whether the extra phone belonged to the student who had reported it, the resources officer “saw” nude photos on the phone.

The police quickly became involved, although according to investigators with the Exploited and Missing Child Unit in Sedgwick County, charges will probably not be filed.

Obviously, there is a lot to not like in this story, whether you’re a parent or a teen:

  • Teens shouldn’t be sexting. It’s a bad idea
  • Phones should always have a lock screen password
  • The resources officer may have been overstepping when he started snooping through the phone (more below)
  • You do not want the Exploited and Missing Child Unit involved in your life, ever

As a teen, once you send a sexual image, you are at the mercy of the recipient to keep the photo or video out of the public eye. If you lose your phone and don’t have a home screen password, you are at the mercy of whoever finds your phone.

It goes without saying that this situation, and many like it, can be avoided entirely by teens not sexting in the first place. I’ll be telling my teens about this story over dinner tonight.

(Thoughts on the resource officer’s actions: We’re not sure what the laws or school policies are in Kansas, but we checked in with a local New Jersey Vice Principal. According to him, in NJ schools such an employee would only be permitted to search a student phone to ascertain the owner, not to look at the contents.)


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.