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What Age Should Kids Get A Smartphone?

19th November 2019

These days, it’s not uncommon to see children with their eyes glued to smartphones or tablets when eating out at a restaurant or while travelling on long journeys. The digital age is upon us and members of ‘Generation Z’ have never known a time without the internet! Mobile devices can be a lifeline for parents for keeping their kids content when needed most, but when is it healthy for a child to have their own smartphone?

The main concerns about smartphone use

There are many fears when it comes to giving kids their own smartphone. By giving your child a phone connected to the internet you risk opening up a Pandora’s Box of hackers, adult content and general online nastiness.

Some of parents’ main concerns are:

  • Too much screen time
  • Addiction to games or social media
  • Cyberbullying
  • Exposure to nudity/violence
  • Affordability

Dangers of too much screen time

Depending on how kids are using the internet, too much screen time can contribute to various negative effects such as obesity, sleep problems, behaviour problems, education problems and increased violence.

Studies have found that although some digital activities can help with cognitive development, screen time can also have a negative impact on the brain development of children if over-exposed.

Ages 4 to 6

This is a time when young brains are still developing. Screens on mobile devices could cause overstimulation, producing dopamine and adrenaline in the brain. This can cause digital devices such as smartphones and tablets to be extremely addictive at this stage. 

Ages 7 to 11

At this age, kids are starting to gain independence. They are at school all day and usually start to participate in extracurricular activities. This independence may cause parents to consider getting a phone to keep track of their child.

However, this is also an age when social media may start to be used. These sites promote an over-reliance on peer validation and can have a negative impact if your child is not ready to deal with those social challenges.

Ages 12-16

This is the most common age for children to start using a smartphone. This is a time when adolescents are developing skills like problem-solving, critical thinking and impulse control. If these skills can be seen in a child, they are probably ready for monitored smartphone use.

Co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, reportedly limited his kids’ use of technology and prohibited them from using the iPad when it was first released. It is also reported that Microsoft’s, Bill Gates, waited until his kids were 14 to give them phones.

What age is the right age?

Internet Matters believes “every child is different and whether it be a sign of maturity or peace of mind; parents know intuitively what the right age is for their child to be given a smartphone.”

Ultimately it’s down to parents own judgement as to when their child is ready for the responsibility of having a mobile phone. Age is a guideline but a child’s maturity level and understanding of risks and how to deal with them is key to deciding when they are ready for their own smartphone.

If your child is not quite ready to have their own mobile phone then you may want to introduce a smartwatch with calling capability as a stepping stone. Read about some of the watches available here.

Teaching responsible smartphone use

Regardless of what age you decide to give your child a smartphone, it’s essential to teach responsible use. Internet Matters says these five tips will help to keep your kids safe online:

  • Have open and honest conversations with your child about their online world. Find out what they like doing and get involved.
  • Set boundaries with your child or put in place a family contract for their internet use, which includes details of where and when they can use their devices and for how long.
  • Set up parental controls on your home broadband as well as all of the other internet-enabled devices your child has access to. Use a child-friendly search engine and where necessary, set their user account to only follow sites which you’ve deemed safe.
  • Check age-limits on games, websites and apps –  especially ones that have a social media element.
  • Check that online accounts are password protected and ensure they are not putting out personal information online. If they do have a social media profile ensure they are only accepting requests from friends – and request that you or someone you both trust follows them to keep on top of their online activity.

Smartphones have many benefits if used properly. Following these tips will help you decide when your child should get a smartphone and help ensure they use the device in a safe manner. 

If you are thinking about getting your child a mobile phone and want to drill down further into the pro’s and con’s for their age range then visit the Internet Matters site here.

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