When Should You Give Your Child a Smartphone?

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Parents of young children beware. By the age of 10, 12 at the latest, your child will need to have a smartphone.

Or, at least she will think so.

“All of the other kids have one,” she’ll argue. “If I can’t text and talk with the other kids, I won’t have any friends,” she’ll plead. “If you get me my own smartphone, I’ll stop asking to borrow yours,” she’ll promise.

smartphone for kids

The Right Age to Give Your Child a Smartphone

So how old does your child need to be before you give them a smartphone?

Or, to be more precise, how old does your child need to be before you give them a $600 pocket-sized device that gives them free and open access to the internet (and all of the dangers that come with it)?

Raise your hand if you are tired of constantly handing your smartphone over to your kids.

Did this tweet hit a little too close to home?

Via @TheCatWhisprer

Or his even darker follow-up:

Via @TheCatWhisprer

As a parent of four kids—a preschooler, an elementary schooler, a middle schooler, and a high schooler—I’ve been researching and debating this issue with my mom friends for years.

So what’s the answer?

High school.

Correction.

Your child should be old enough to own a smartphone by the 9th grade IF you have trained her in the years prior to make good decisions about technology.

Good decisions like not losing expensive things. Limiting screen time. Valuing face-to-face communication over texting and social media. Never texting or posting something that’s inappropriate.

These aren’t skills your child can learn overnight or magically acquire at a certain age like acne or a deeper voice. It takes time, years even. And most importantly, it requires your supervision and constant monitoring of their technology use.

How to Get Your Child Ready to Own a Smartphone:: The 4 Stages of Training Your Child to Make Good Decisions About Technology

Here is how I am training my kids to make good decisions about technology and get them ready to own a smartphone by the 9th grade.

Preschool

Starting in preschool, I give my kids an inexpensive, kid-friendly tablet with restrictions, lots of restrictions.

The device is password protected. Only kid-friendly content can be accessed on the device (I have found the Kindle Fire for Kids is great for curating age-appropriate content). I will only unlock the device if chores have been completed and I set a timer to shut off the device when their time limit is reached.

Lessons I want my preschooler to learn? We only use devices when our work is done and not for hours on end.

Elementary School

Starting in the third grade, I graduate my kids to a better device, like an iPod Touch, and allow them greater (but still restricted) access to the internet.

Side note—I am a big fan of Apple Family Share, which allows you to share iTunes and App Store purchase between family members and easily control your children’s devices (like setting time limits for specific apps and reviewing activity reports) from your own phone.

Similar restrictions to my preschooler’s devices. The device is password protected. I approve all apps (the device won’t allow them to download apps without my permission). I will only unlock the device if chores have been completed and I set a timer (through my phone) to shut off access to certain apps when their time limit is reached.

And I also periodically check the browsing history.

If the device is lost or broken? Repaired or replaced at the child’s expense (no advances, money must be earned through extra chores in advance).

Additional lessons I want my elementary schooler to learn? You need to take care of expensive things. And mom’s always watching.

Middle School

Same as elementary school, with one exception—occasional, but restricted access to a smartphone.

We have one extra smartphone (password protected). We allow our middle schooler to use this phone for a set period of time in the evening to text with her friends (which I periodically review). She may also check out the phone if she is going to go somewhere and needs to call or text me.

Additional lessons I want my middle schooler to learn? Texting is okay, but face-to-face communication is better.

High School

My high schooler has her own smartphone and laptop, and knows the password to both devices (as do I).

Again, if she loses or breaks a device, she is responsible for replacing it.

Her phone must be checked in by 10:00 p.m. on weeknights, 11:00 p.m. on weekends.

I haven’t allowed her access to social media yet (a topic for another post).

We regularly talk about the benefits and dangers of technology.

Don’t Forget About Non-Smartphones (Dumb Phones)

Yes, you can still buy not-so-smart phones that allow for calling and texting, but not much else. For example, Sprint’s “WeGo” is a child-friendly phone on which you can program specific incoming and outgoing numbers.

While I don’t personally own one, I think a so-called dumb phone could be a great solution for a parent who needs the ability to talk or text with their child without going through another adult (like a divorced parent), but doesn’t want to “open the gates to the internet” by giving their child a smartphone.

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Siobhan Kratovil
Siobhán* Fitzpatrick Kratovil is a stay-at-home mom, solo attorney, and blogger. She practices in the Dallas area and specializes in business law and estate planning for families with young children. After years of conversations with other parents that started with “You’re a lawyer, right? I’ve got a question for you,” Siobhán started writing her blog Lex Mater (The Law Mother). With no legalese and a lot of humor, she answers a broad range of legal questions from parents, including what are those pesky liability waivers/releases you have to sign for every kid activity, how do you pick guardians for your kids, and her personal favorite, whose responsible when your kid’s favorite glitter shoes are stolen at an indoor trampoline park. Siobhán and her husband Chris, who is also an attorney, are the parents of four girls, Caitríona (13), Cara (10), Kelsey (8), and Claire (4). When she’s not mothering, lawyering, or blogging, Siobhán is a runner with far more passion than speed. You can find Siobhán at Lex Mater, on Facebook , on Twitter , and on Instagram. * Don’t know how to pronounce Siobhán? Don’t worry. It’s one of those impossible Irish names no one outside of Ireland can pronounce or spell. It’s pronounced “shiv-awn.”

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