Is there a perfect age to give your child his first cell phone? It’s an important question. It would be nice if there were a perfect age, but having a quick and easy answer isn’t always an option for parents. Let’s take me as an example.
I was a strange kid. Some said I was accident prone, and others said I went about things with too much gusto and too little worry. Maybe both are true.
Here is a partial list of unfortunate things that happened to me before my 15th birthday, to the best of my recollection and in no particular order:
Bitten by a dog – We were riding in the back seat of my uncle’s car to go swimming. There were several kids (no seatbelts!) and a dog. Provoked by who-knows-what, the dog bit me in the face, requiring several stitches to put my lower eyelid back in order.
Bitten by a dog Part II – We were walking home from a movie theater (unaccompanied!) and took a shortcut through an abandoned lot. A rather large and very mean German Shepherd decided to bite me in the back. I was wearing a winter coat so I lived to tell the tale.
Hammer to the forehead – The neighbor hood kids were building a go-cart and I leaned over one of the bigger kid’s shoulder to see what he was doing. He was swinging a hammer. Several stitches to the forehead were the result.
Almost drowned in a pool – Before I had learned to swim, we were playing in the shallow end of a cousin’s pool. There was a buoy line between the shallow end and the deep end. I somehow managed to slip under the buoy line and sink like a stone. Luckily, my big sister was nearby and dragged me to safety.
Hit in the face with a hockey stick – My dad used to turn our yard into an outdoor rink in the winter, and the ice would draw a crowd of kids. One evening we were playing pickup hockey (no helmets!) and I took a stick to the face, busting open my upper lip. Again, it took several stiches to close the wound and I still have the scar.
Lost front tooth in bike accident – I was riding my bike down a suburban street (my first 10-speed) and the chain fell off. I looked down to see what happened and crashed headlong into a parked car. It’s kind of a big deal to be the only kid in class missing a front tooth.
Chipped 4 front teeth playing backyard football – I was going frantically after a loose ball and one of the bigger kids inadvertently elbowed me in the mouth. Four new crowns were my reward. The dentist and I became good friends.
My guess is that if smartphones were around when I was a kid, not matter how old I was when I got one, I would have done something reckless with it. There would have been no “right” age for me to get a phone, in the same way that there was no “right” age for me to be playing pickup football, hockey or riding a bike. I just was. Was I too young to be walking home from the theater without an adult? Probably, but we just did that back then. Was I too young to be riding in a car with a dog? Certainly not, even though that dog did have a mean streak.
There isn’t a perfect age to give a child a smartphone, period. It depends on a number of factors – maturity, familiarity with technology, ability to identify dangerous situations and ability to resist temptation. There may be a right age for your child, but all kids are different.
For every parent who is overly cautious and waits too long to give a child a cell phone, there are probably 3 or 4 who do so too early. That’s life, but then again there are risks everywhere.
To put your family in the best possible situation and ensure that your child stays safe and uses that phone responsibly, there are a few things you can 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.
- Have a set of rules for what is okay and what isn’t – 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.
Your child is going to have a smartphone at some point. Even the most thoughtful parents can ensure that nothing bad will ever happen to their child, but by considering the decision carefully, and preparing your child beforehand, you can give yourself the best chance.
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