What’s The Right Age To Give Your Child A Mobile Phone?


Let’s admit it; for many of us in our late 30s and over, a mobile phone is still seen in some regard as a status symbol. Ingrained forever in the deep recesses of our minds are the twenty something year old memories of the “Naught-Nine-Naught” era and all the jokes that we told back then to console each other. Stored right alongside those memories are the covetous emotions we felt when we saw “big men” flaunting their devices for us mere mortals to ogle.

These days however, a mobile phone is much more than just a tool for communication but a tool of – well, life really! It’s an indispensable personal computer that can entertain, inform and educate as needed, 24/7. So when your centennial child, who has never lived in a world without high speed internet, social media or instant camera pics asks you for a mobile phone, the first instinct some of us have is to spank them with a slipper for even harbouring the thought. Others with a little bit more self-control will bark back, “How can you have a phone? Do you know how old I was when I bought my first phone? What are you going to use a phone for anyway?”

Kids are all different though. One may be very careful with things while another is “destroyer-in-chief.”

Despite our orientation towards phone ownership, I think we all know that at some point, we will have to succumb to their demands and give each one of them a phone of their own, but the question remains, “At what age?” First of all, no self-respecting child these days is going to accept anything less than an iPhone or android device from you so we are talking about smartphones only here. So you can remove any thoughts you may have about handing your child a phone with a bright blue screen or one that doesn’t have internet access.

I don’t have a specific answer to the question because there isn’t one, but in this post, I will be going over some things to consider and offering tips that will help you make a decision of whether your kid is ready to own their own phone.

How Do They Handle Your Own Phone?

Even before they turn one, your phone becomes “our phone”. If you’ve ever tried grabbling a phone from a baby engrossed by all the colours and lights, then you know exactly what I mean. As they grow older and develop better hand-eye coordination, they start to demand for your phone at every juncture, to play some game that will suck the life out of your battery in half an hour. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to part with an old phone that they can use, or at least pass them your spouse’s phone.

Kids are all different though. One may be very careful with things while another is “destroyer-in-chief”. You can base your decision on whether to give them their own phone on how careful they are with yours and with things in general. A child that is likely to lose a phone the same week you give it to them or that hasn’t demonstrated a duty of care with other valuables is not ready for the responsibility.

Start With A Tablet

A halfway solution. You can give them a tablet without a SIM card and with supervised access to Wi-Fi to start off with. My kids were 7 and 4 when they got their own tablets (not iPads, for those of you with your eyes wide open right now). They were cheap android devices that gave them access to all the games they wanted with no risk of making in-app purchases on Daddy’s card. They did have SIM cards though so I could speak with them while they were at their grandparents’. With this option, they learn’t responsibility and in controlled conditions.

The age you give them a tablet can be any age really, but remember that once you buy one for the oldest, you are going to have to buy for all other them if you value peace and quiet.

Set Rules For Use

So, my first kid got her phone 3 years after she got a tab. It was more for safety reasons than a case of giving her a new toy to play with. It really makes you feel more secure knowing where your kids are and knowing that you can reach them in case of an emergency (and just as importantly, so they can reach you).

Despite the freedom that comes with owning a smartphone, she has to follow some rules. She can’t have the phone in her room after 9 p.m. for example. Also, if she is naughty, the phone goes away for one week, no questions asked. Finally, her mother has the passcode and is allowed to check her messages at any time.

Enough Talk, Time To Act

There are multiple other considerations such as the cost of the device for example. If all your kid’s friends have iPhones and they iMessage each other all the time, you kid won’t appreciate anything but an iPhone. Health is another issue in many respects. Exposure to radiation, posture issues and sleep deprivation because of late night free calling are all real issues some parents are dealing with right now because they gave their son or daughter a phone. They may also be easy targets for opportunistic robbers or worse.

Finally there is the potential for them to be exposed to adult content and fraudsters. There are child-proofing software packages out there but they can be too restrictive. You will spend your time entering a password to enable one site every or the other every 10 minutes and once these kids see your finger movements two or three times, they will figure out the password anyway.

We can’t protect our kids from harm forever, but at least we can gauge their readiness level for phone ownership or use the promise of a phone to encourage certain behaviours. One thing that should be a last resort however, is giving them a phone and withdrawing it long term because they simply weren’t ready.

Insurance distribution professional, passionate about personal financial management. Host blogger at www.talkingmoney.com.ng.
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