At What Age Should You Get Your Child a Mobile Phone?
As parents, you have some difficult decisions to make regarding your children, including when they should get a mobile phone. A study published by AT&T includes the following statistics about kids and phones:
The average age for a child to receive their first mobile phone is 12.1 years.
Nearly all (90 percent) of kids surveyed believe that it’s okay for parents to set rules about phone usage.
Nearly 40 percent of kids surveyed said that their parents have not discussed mobile phone safety with them.
And a 2012 Nielsen report claims that 58 percent of kids ages 13 to 17 years have their own smartphone.
However, adding a data plan to your child’s mobile phone requires an additional level of maturity beyond just call and text. Deciding on the right age to get your child their first phone will differ from child to child and family to family. You may choose to create rules based on specific situations and needs within your family rather than setting a family-wide rule by age.
To determine the right time to purchase your child’s first mobile phone, consider the following questions:
Need to communicate: Does your family’s schedule require you to be in touch with your children regarding schedule changes such as activity pick up time and location or after school plans? Providing a child with a mobile phone allows convenient communication for busy families.
Safety concerns: Do you feel like your children should have a mobile phone for safety reasons? Do they walk home from school or an activity alone? Is their bus stop out of view of your home?
Responsibility: Is your child responsible enough to own a potentially expensive device, such as a smartphone? Will he lose it? Is he likely to break the phone and need it to be replaced often? Does he have a good track record of caring for other expensive devices such as handheld games or game consoles? Has he shown responsibility in other areas, such as caring for a family pet?
Tech-savvy: Do you feel comfortable with your child having access to the technology that is included in a mobile phone’s capabilities?
Rules: Will your child follow the rules for phone use? Do you feel comfortable enforcing these rules, even if that means taking the phone away for a period of time?
True need: Will your child actually use the phone? Do her friends also own phones (providing her with someone to text), or will a call-only plan suffice? Will there actually be times when your child is without adult supervision and need to contact you or be contacted by you directly?
Location-appropriate behavior: Does your child understand that different settings require different behaviors and that mobile phone usage rules may differ throughout the day? For example, will your child follow a no-texting-in-school policy?
Alternatives: Could your child borrow a parent’s or sibling’s phone during the rare occasion that he needs to have a phone?
Cost: Will the family budget allow for the additional monthly cost?
When your child asks for his first mobile phone, find out more information about why he wants one to help you determine whether the time is right. Ask him to provide you with specifics including answers to the following questions:
Are you willing to sign a mobile phone use contract? Be sure to include guidelines for phone use including time/text limits and phone etiquette in your family’s contract.
Why do you need/want a phone? Can your child justify asking for a mobile phone? Does she want one because her friends have them?
When would you like to be able to use your phone? If your child wants a mobile phone for during the school day but your child’s school has a policy that phones must be kept in lockers, perhaps you shouldn’t purchase a phone. If he is asking because he would feel safer having a phone for after sporting events, you may want to consider honoring his request.
Do you want a smartphone or a feature phone? If your child claims to only want a phone for the purpose of calling home while out with friends but then requests a smartphone, you may need to ask more questions about the intended use of the phone before making a decision.
Research the mobile phone policy at your child’s school prior to making a family decision about when your child should have a mobile phone.