In a technology-driven society, many parents find themselves asking ‘what age should a child get a phone?’. When it comes to starting secondary school or moving on to a new school, the topic of smartphones often pops up as schools share their own rules around phones.
Some parents believe that children should have a smartphone as early as possible, while others believe that it’s better to wait until they are older. In this blog we explore the pros and cons of allowing a child to have a phone and share some tips for parents who are considering smartphones for their children.
Pros of Giving a Child a Smartphone
Deciding to give them access to a phone for school is one only you as a parent can make. Some of the positives to them having a phone are:
A smartphone can give parents peace of mind as it allows them to keep in touch with their child at all times. This is especially important for children who walk or cycle as a phone can be used in an emergency if they need it. We’ve previously shared some other safety tips when walking to school in our handy guide to independently walking to and from school safely.
Having a phone can also help children stay connected with their friends and family. For children who move around a lot or who have more than one caregiver, being able to talk to their family whenever they need provides extra comfort.
There are also lots of educational apps and websites available and with a smartphone, children can access them at any time. Online learning can also support children who learn in different ways, such as interactive games which can help them to engage in different subjects. To support their learning, a phone can even be included in their own back-to-school list from their school, particularly if they’re starting secondary school. We share even more tips in our ultimate back-to-school guide to help you with everything they’ll need ahead of the new school year.
Cons of Giving a Child a Smartphone
Excessive screen time
There is lots of evidence to suggest that children who spend excessive time on their phones are at risk of developing problems with sleep, school and relationships. Having boundaries in place will help to manage this and avoid too much time being spent on their phone.
Phones can also make it easy for children to be involved in bullying. Cyberbullying can be just as harmful as traditional bullying, and it can be difficult for parents to monitor. Speaking to your child about the type of messages or content they read will help them identify negative behaviour and hopefully avoid being part of it.
Exposure to inappropriate content
Having a connected device to the internet can expose children to inappropriate content which is harmful to children’s development. Having website blocking enabled and certain safety apps installed will help filter inappropriate content on their devices. Having a conversation about negative content online will also help your child understand what they should and shouldn’t be looking at or sharing.
Tips if you’re thinking about getting a mobile phone for your child
If you’re thinking about giving your child a smartphone, there are a few things you can do to help them use it safely and responsibly:
Set clear rules and expectations - Talk to your child about how they can use their phone responsibly. Set limits on screen time, and make sure they understand the risks of cyberbullying and inappropriate content.
Monitor their usage - It’s important to monitor your child on how much time they’re spending on their phone. You can use parental controls to block certain apps and websites, and you can also check their phone history. Some parents take the view that the phone is theirs as they pay the bills but allow their child to use it. This helps with looking through phone use and messages etc. not feeling like a violation of your child’s privacy.
Talk to them about online safety - Talk to your child about the dangers of online predators and cyberbullying. Teach them how to stay safe online, and encourage them to come to you if they see anything that makes them uncomfortable.
Be a role model - Children learn by watching the adults in their lives. If you want your child to use their phone responsibly, it's important to model that behaviour yourself. Make sure you’re not spending too much time on your own phone and lead by example.
So, what age should a child get a smartphone? Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, as the decision will vary depending on your own child and how you feel about it as a parent. If you do decide the time is right, our tips should help you to set the rules and expectations of using the phone, so they can stay connected with you when needed.