6 Things to Consider When Purchasing Your Kid’s First Cell Phone

Sep 13, 2016

Perhaps the hardest technological decision parents make is when to purchase their child a smartphone. You likely see periodic calls for help from your friends on social media, asking what age everyone let their children have a cell phone. It’s a common question, but if you must have a number, consider the age of ten

If you scour the internet for assistance in making this monumental technological decision, you’ll find a bevy of contradicting studies; one study suggests that the average age a child takes ownership of a smartphone is six, while another states twelve. Then factor in a 2015 study, compiled by Influence Central, reported that in the US, the average age for first time smartphone ownership is ten years old.

The reality is that the technology studies mean next to nothing when it comes to your child; only you can accurately gauge when your child is ready for her own smartphone. When you’re trying to decide when to buy your child her first smartphone, consider some of the items, which follow.

  • Pair with your partner
    A 2015 study, conducted by Sprint and Techlicious, showed 37 percent of dads are likely to give their child a smartphone in elementary school, while 41 percent of moms are more likely to give their child a smartphone in middle school. Make sure that you and your partner are on the same page when it comes to issuing your kiddo a smartphone. A united front will go a long way with enforcing phone rules.

  • Age is but a number
    You are the best gauge of your child’s ability to handle the responsibility of phone ownership. Smartphones are an expensive piece of equipment, best issued when your child is able to understand the weight of such responsibility.

    Ten years ago, when iPods were children’s first forays into personal devices, I had a friend purchase an iPod for her daughter. Around eight or nine years old at the time, my friend’s daughter was elated, quickly finding an app that allowed her to text directly from her iPod. Within weeks of owning that cherished iPod, my friend came home one day to find the iPod lying in the yard and her daughter tight-lipped inside. My friend’s daughter finally broke down in tears, telling her that she had lost her iPod; my girlfriend waited a few weeks before letting her daughter know she had found it, and reissuing with new rules in place.

    If you have a child who doesn’t yet understand the value of a smartphone, is often misplacing and losing items, or is too young to take care of his things, you may want to wait a little before making a smartphone purchase for him. Instead, work with him to understand the value of things, and be more mindful of his possessions. If you feel strongly about your child’s need for a phone, purchase an inexpensive cell phone for emergency use, and have him work his way up from there.

  • Peer factor
    If your child is coming telling you that all of his friends have smartphones, do some investigative work. Ask some of your child’s friends parents if they have phones, to gauge how many do, indeed have their own smartphones. While you’re asking, also ask how they are monitoring usage, and what ground rules they’ve put into place.

  • Need or desire
    At the same time your child is asking for a smartphone, claiming that all of his friends have one, gauge if there really is a need for a smartphone, if your child’s request is out of a desire to be like his friends. If your child is involved in after school activities, or goes to after school care, you may see a need for you to be able to contact your child directly with a smartphone, or simply use the tracking feature on your child’s phone to check his whereabouts.

  • Set Internet rules
    While you've likely discussed the importance of keeping personal information off social media, it's especially important when your child begins using a smartphone. If you're comfortable with your child frequenting social media sites, open the lines of communication so they'll feel comfortable enough to notify you of any threatening situations. Most importantly, establish basic rules about behavior online and on social media.

  • Sign a contract
    You’ve discussed your expectations and talked about the great responsibility that comes along with owning a smartphone, now put everything in writing. Weight your words by drafting a contract outlining the rules for smartphone conduct, and put the consequences to those rules into writing. Having a contract with your child holds both of you accountable; if your child breaks a smartphone rule, she knows the repercussions and you know the consequence to dole out. Net Nanny has a free contract you can download.

    As you would instruct your kiddo, the best course of action is to use your best judgement when it comes to buying your child a smartphone. If your gut instinct tells you that your child isn’t ready, or that that expensive piece of technology is likely to be lost, then wait a few months and revisit. When your child is ready, be sure to utilize parental control software for additional peace of mind.