Among safety speakers, it’s one of the most common questions about kids and technology that we’re asked: At what age should you buy your kid a cell phone or smartphone? The answer: Unfortunately, as we recently explained to Parenting magazine, there’s no magic number – it’s largely a function of family need, children’s maturity level and both how well-equipped that you feel your children are to make good decisions and the safety tools that you’ve put in place to catch them if they should stumble.
However, in the interest of provide a succinct answer that will be of the most service, let’s see if we can summarize. In short, while it won’t be right for every household – safety speakers all have their own take on the subject – many parents first introduce a cell phone to kids around age 13. While some households lean a little younger, this is a fairly reasonable starting point if you’re looking for an opening guideline. That said, when you really should introduce a mobile device to kids’ lives is when there’s actually a meaningful, pressing need – e.g. when they’ll be outside of easy contact, and you absolutely, positively need to keep in contact with them, or be able to communicate on-demand should an emergency arise.
A few other points we share with parents when speaking on this topic:
- Consider buying a cell phone that dials only your contact number if and when kids need to come home alone. Prepaid cell phones can also let you limit call times and features, restrict Internet usage, prevent access to unwanted features, and monitor overall usage, and usage patterns.
- If you’re concerned about receiving unexpectedly large bills, or kids’ Internet activity, opt out of texting or endless data plans and choose a basic feature phone that forgoes bells and whistles such as downloadable apps, unlimited Web browsing and GPS tracking to limit children’s online interactions.
- Always read the manual, research and go hands-on with phones, smartphones, tablet PCs or any high-tech device that provides VoIP or digital calling functionality before you hand them over to children. It’s imperative to know the ins and outs of the cell phone you’re considering for your child before you give it to him or her – a good rule of thumb for any high-tech device for that matter.
- Consider restricting cell phone usage to only taking place in your presence until kids are mature enough to handle calls, texting and online interactions on their own.
- Be certain to monitor cell phone activity and usage, and review your bill regularly for suspicious calls, activity or communications made when mobile handsets are supposed to have been shut down, e.g. 3AM on a Tuesday night.
For more information on kids and cell phones, including some of the latest statistics and other digital parenting experts’ input, check out our friends at Parenting magazine, and the in-depth look they provide on the subject.