How old is old enough for a smartphone? It’s one of the many questions today’s digital parents wrestle with - especially at gift-giving season - it wasn’t even a thing a generation ago.
Bill and Melinda were adamant about setting boundaries for their children. But many argue that withholding mobile devices until kids are well into their teenage years is simply impractical today. “Young children owning smartphones is the new normal” is the conclusion of the Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital, following an Australian Child Health poll that found two-thirds of primary school kids and more than a third of pre-schoolers own their own mobile device.
The same study also found almost half of Aussie kids are using their devices at bedtime, while one in four children report sleep problems. Coincidence? We think not.
According to a 2016 Roy Morgan Young Australians Survey, by the time Aussie kids are 10, one in every five will own a smartphone. As for Australian teens - if yours tells you “everyone else” has one, turns out that may literally be true. Only nine percent of Aussie children aged 14-17 do not have a smartphone, the Roy Morgan survey found.
Here’s another fascinating stat. Only 22% of teens with smartphones foot their own bills. Parents pay for 78%. Hmmmm. You’d think that would give us more control.
So what is the right age for a child to have a smartphone? We asked Family Zone cyber expert Dr. Kristy Goodwin for a simple answer.
Turns out there isn’t one. Damn!
“It’s difficult to prescribe a precise chronological age when it’s safe and/or appropriate to give a child a phone,” says Dr. Kristy. “I recommend delaying the decision until you feel your child is emotionally mature and responsible. Remember, your child may be tech savvy but they make lack the social and emotional skills required to safely use the device.
“Do they understand the permanent consequences of posting a photo online, or sending a message?”
Many parents have not even thought this through, let alone their children.
“Giving your child a smartphone is giving them a powerful communication tool that does so much more than make and receive phone calls,” Dr. Kristy explains. With a phone, they can also create and receive text messages, images, and videos - “and these can be easily and quickly distributed online, screenshot or uploaded onto other websites.
“You’re also giving them a device that can access the Internet anywhere, anytime (unless you install tools like the Family Zone which can restrict what kids can access and when devices are used).
“When you give a child a smartphone they can potentially post, or distribute embarrassing or incriminating photos/videos/messages. Kids’ online mistakes or errors in judgement now have digital DNA attached.”
Making the call
1. Consider their emotional responsibility before buying them a phone. You’re giving them a powerful tool that can do much more than take and receive phone calls.
2. Is a dumbphone a better option? If they need to be in touch or if the phone is purely for safety reasons this may be a better option.
3. Are they responsible with their other belongings? Establish consequences if their phone is lost.
4. Can they adhere to rules and boundaries? For example, do they know about online etiquette (eg. permission to post pictures of other people)
5. Set up firm rules about how, what, when and where the phone can be used. Use a cloud service like the Family Zone to actively monitor their usage and enforce limits and controls.
6. Set up parental controls and Family Sharing to ensure your child’s safety.
It’s not easy being a digital parent. The good news is, you're not in it alone. If you decide to go ahead with buying a first smartphone for your child, Family Zone’s team of Cyber Experts can help you sort out what apps and content are appropriate, and provide you with the tools and expertise to help you protect your children online.