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Most kids with a pulse are begging their parents for a smart phone long before they reach adolescence. But when is the opportune time?

How old should a child be before you get them a smart phone?

Most people arrive at this page expecting us to spit out a specific age that should serve as a hard and true guideline for when to get a child a smartphone. We’re not going to do that, because setting some arbitrary age cutoff is not the right way to approach the question. It all depends on the child and your family situation.

After all, most kids have been swiping their parents’ phones since they were toddlers. So the question is not one of how soon kids should be exposed to this technology, but how responsible they can be with it. Whether a child is 7 or 11, here are the questions you should be asking:

  1. Are they responsible enough to take care of it? After all, smart phones aren’t cheap. You’ll want to ensure they can handle their belongings before gifting them with such an expensive item.

  1. Are you ready to instill strict limits? How will you do so? If you’re going to get a 7- or 8-year-old their own phone, you need to be ready to severely limit their use. The biggest problem with smartphones is that they can easily take over one’s life and diminish more developmentally healthy activities a child might otherwise engage in. The younger this starts the more serious the consequences. You don’t want an elementary-aged child using a smartphone for two, three, or four hours a day.

  1. How much do they need it? How necessary is having their own phone to their daily functioning?

Most parents will want to get their child their own phone by about the age of 12, because if you haven’t gotten your child one by then you’re jeopardizing their social standing among peers and making them an outcast. (It’s kind of sad that it’s come to this, but it has.) The fact is that nearly every teenager has a smart phone these days. The ownership rate among teens was 80%-plus several years ago and rapidly climbing. Moreover, and again it’s kinda sad that it’s come to this, but the social world of teens has rapidly moved into cyberspace. So denying them a smart phone isn’t just restricting a technological device, it’s denying them access to the social world their peers inhabit.

When we hold smart phones at bay until the end of middle school,” says Dr. Alexandra Samuel, “we miss the chance to mentor children during the years when they’re receptive to parental input. When parents fail to engage with the reality of their children’s increasingly digital lives, no wonder kids feel like they can only connect with their peers. (Freed & Samuel, 2019)

Giving a child a smart phone under certain conditions

When getting a younger child a phone, consider giving it under the condition that it’s a lease and not a gift, and that continued possession of it is dependent upon them acting responsibly, as outlined in the next section on smartphone rules for kids.

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