Now here’s a parental conundrum: At what age is a child old enough to own a smartphone or at least have one to carry around?
According to a survey by Influence Central, the average age of smartphone-wielding kids today is ten years old; although, the numbers are trending toward an even younger, tender age of 7 years.
There is no specific right age, however, that experts can define; rather, it’s more a question of: Is your child ready for one?
Why We Must Think Twice About Handing Kids a Smartphone
Smartphones aren’t called smart for nothing. These have a load of features that can be inappropriately way too clever for budding minds. For one, cellphones can be unfettered portals to everything the internet can offer, from innocent videos to hardcore porn and violence. Second, these serve as open doors for cyber-bullying, sexting, paedophilic activities, and private information sourcing. Third, smartphones pose as driving and walking hazards. Texting while driving or crossing the street is akin to being drunk as the circumstance of oblivion is common to both states of texting or driving under the influence.
Less threatening but still problematic are other pressing issues
Cellphones are addictive. Research by Common Sense Media revealed that 50 percent of kids polled admitted that they were addicted to their phones.
Because of their addictive natures, smartphones tend to render kids anti-social as they prefer to engage with their gadgets rather than have real conversations with people. Kids also tend to be glued to a gadget that can help keep up with friends and the virtual social scene anytime.
Smartphones disrupt concentration on schoolwork and sleeping hours with all the entertainment and social temptations served on a golden virtual platter.
Smartphones are more difficult to police because unlike the PC, their small size makes them very portable. Add its versatility with incorporated features of other gadgets (internet browser, video player, reader, music player, etc.) and your child can skirt all those PC and TV rules at home.
In immature hands, smartphones are practically loaded guns that can hurt kids psychologically and physically, if parents don’t take care.
When Cellphones Become Child Appropriate
Ironically the smartphone’s safety issue has two sides to its coin. Smartphones can become necessary tools to ensure your child’s safety as well. When children don’t belong to a carpool or need to walk home alone, a cellphone may be your ally to knowing where and how your kids are. You don’t have to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea though in deciding your kid’s age appropriateness for a phone. Some parents have learned to roll with the punches by determining how to live around this confusing issue.
A cellphone need not be too smart. You can allow use of a dumb phone or one with only the basic features: text and call. A very simple cellphone does not have access to the internet and the contact list can be restricted to only people you know. In addition, phones like these won’t burn a huge hole in your wallet so you’ll feel less about pulling your hair out should your child accidentally lose or break it.
If you must give a smartphone, learn its ins and outs well before handing it over to your child. Know that there are apps out there that can restrict access to inappropriate websites; give you real time location of your child; monitor text and calls, even deleted ones; give you access to videos and photos your child uploads or downloads; restrict contact lists; provide you access to his social media accounts, and many more.
Safety issues aside though and the daily fact that your kid has been groaning about being the “only one without a phone (because you live in the Jurassic 20th century),” when can you actually deem it time to say, “Yes, you are old enough to have a phone?”
Age isn’t the answer although presumably, the older the child is (16 years and older), the better the odds are that he can act more responsibly. So the answer is: it depends on your child’s maturity level.
How Mature Should My Child Be?
Remember, a smartphone is a powerful tool that wields the features of many digital gadgets in one. As such, it has to be in the hands of a responsible person, one who actually realizes that such a tool, used the wrong way, can compromise their safety and that of other people. To assess how mature your child is for a smartphone, pose yourself the following questions:
- Is my child responsible enough to understand and realize how important safety concerns are? Do they know and equally fear that broadcasting their location and personal information can make them vulnerable to cyber predators and bullies?
- Are they responsible enough to check in with you every so often? After all, one of the major reasons for allowing a smartphone is to know where your child is and if possible, who they hang with.
- Do they do what they says they will? A child who has the discipline to keep their word may be mature enough to handle some of a smartphone’s many temptations.
- Does they lose things often? A lost smartphone is an expensive loss.
- Is your child mature enough to be able to set limits for themselves such as refraining from texting during class hours; avoiding the bandwagon of cyberbullying someone else; imposing a curfew on phone use during bedtime; etc. They may slip and fail on some restrictions but at least you can trust them to stick to the more important rules.
- Do they have the confidence to withstand peer pressure especially if called to break one of your safety rules?
- There are probably more you can add to this list of assessments. The vital suggestion here is that your child can own a smartphone if he is mature and responsible enough to use one. Sure, they may just be 10 years old but if they have the maturity of an average 18-year old, why not? Conversely, a 14-year old may not be ready for one if they still clings to an 8-year old’s pouty, unreliable tendencies.
With kids and smartphone use, age is not the problem; maturity level is.