When Should I Get My Child a Phone?

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The following post is an excerpt from our latest Minno Life Guide, Technology: Raising Digital Natives from child and adolescent counselor, Sissy Goff. Find out more about the guide in the Minno Shop.

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Do you remember getting your first cell phone with a camera? The time limits your parents would set on AOL Instant Messenger so you didn’t tie up the family phone line all night? Buying a certain number of text messages each month? 

Generation Z won’t have any of those experiences. In fact, telling them about “only having 50 text messages a month” is likely to elicit the same eye-rolls as your parents’ “walking uphill both ways in the snow to get to school” stories. Technology isn’t really “new” anymore—at least, not to your kids. Technology is just there

Quick Stats About Technology Use From Common Sense Media:

  1. Kids 8 and under spend an average of 2 hours and 19 minutes a day on screens4.
  2. Kids ages 8–12 spend an average of 4.44 hours a day (not for school or homework) on screens. Teens use screens for an average of 7.22 hours per day. 
  3. 53% of kids have their own smartphone by age 11; 69% by age 12. 
  4. The most popular activity online for kids ages 8–17 is watching tv or videos. 

The same way the automobile changed the world of relationships, travel, and commerce by opening new pathways to sell, buy, trade, and go, the Internet has opened new pathways too. These pathways often live in the palm of our hands rather than as poured concrete. It took decades for automakers and federal regulators to come up with guard rails, safety mechanisms, seat belts, and car seats to help people stay safe and secure in cars. We’re still in the beginning stages of the Internet revolution, and those safeguards are just now being developed. Technology isn’t going away; it’s here to stay, and it’s already evolved so much. 

The magic questions these days: “When should I get my child a phone?” Is there a standard age? When will he be old enough to be responsible? When will she be mature enough to make good choices?”

No expert can answer that question for you, because you know your child better than anyone. You also know your family dynamic, your values, and your desires for your child. All of those factors impact when you introduce screens, personal devices, and social media. 

When Should I Get My Child a Phone?

Here are a few ideas from our team as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics

  • Find a tribe of like-minded parents to walk this road with you. You can decide together when you’re going to let your kids have their first phone. That way, when your child says, “All the other kids have ________,” (which your child will say at some point) you can say, “That’s funny, because I know the Smiths and the Johnsons or (whomever your home team is) don’t have those yet either.” This gives you automatic backup, as well as giving your kids friends with whom to commiserate. 
  • Choose when judiciously. If your child is the first to have their own smart device, they’ll often be perceived as the frontrunner and others will see them as on the cutting edge, which can get edgier and edgier as they grow up. On the flip side, if they’re the last to have all things technology, they’ll often be the ones who rebel. They’ll sneak or “borrow” a friend’s device, or they’ll be left behind and excluded. If you hold off on all technology, your child will often find their way to it without your knowledge—and rebel. Plus, your goal is to teach your child responsible technology use while they’re under your roof

These years offer an incredible opportunity for your kids to learn responsible technology use while they’re living with responsible adults, who can set safe and clear boundaries. Technology isn’t the enemy, but it is certainly a gateway to the world in all of its beauty and brokenness. Just as you teach your kids to be good citizens in their school and neighborhood, teach them to be good citizens of the digital world. 

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Read more about 10 guiding principles to help you raise digital natives in the Minno Life Guide: Technology