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How young is too young for a smartphone? We asked the experts

It’s not easy being a parent. Balancing your child’s wants and needs with what you feel is best for them can be tricky. A particularly thorny issue for today’s parents is the question of when to give your child a smartphone. Is there a right age? How do you know that your child is ready to own a smartphone? What can you do to mitigate the dangers and how should you handle the process?

Virtually every kid wants a smartphone. The peer pressure to own one is huge. But smartphones are powerful devices that offer access to every corner of the internet, the ability to upload video and photos of yourself, and an easy way to communicate with anyone. They have great potential to enrich lives, but they can also cause serious problems, even for adults, never mind for children with less impulse control.

What’s the right age?

While Pew Research from 2015 puts adult smartphone ownership in the U.S. at 72 percent, there’s some debate about smartphone ownership among children. The average age for a child to get their first smartphone is currently 10.3 years according to the recent Influence Central report, Kids & Tech: The Evolution of Today's Digital Natives. 

An average of 65 percent of children aged between 8 and 11 have their own smartphone in the U.K. according to a survey by Internet Matters. That survey also found that the majority of parents would like a minimum age for smartphone ownership in the U.K. to be set at age 10.

However, some kids are using smartphones from a very young age. One study by the American Academy of Pediatrics that focused on children in an urban, low-income, minority community suggested that almost all children (96.6 percent) use mobile devices and that 75 percent have their own mobile device by the age of four.

 “There is no age that all children should have a cell phone,” Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center, told Digital Trends. “It has to do with the maturity of the child, it has to do with how the cell phone is being used, and it has to do with the parent’s ability to understand how the child is using the phone.”

The times are changing

For generations used to knocking on doors to see if friends were home and looking things up in library books, smartphones can be a daunting prospect.

“Things are changing really fast, we’re getting all of this new technology, and trying to make decisions about what’s best for our kids, but we didn’t grow up this way,” explains Dr. Rutledge. “We need to put aside the fear and try to make some judgments, not based on what we think is right in terms of what we did as a kid, but what makes sense in this environment.”

We see stories about sexting and online grooming every day, so it’s no wonder that some parents get freaked out and impose a blanket ban on smartphones, but this approach is dangerous. Smartphones are a big part of the modern world and they aren’t going away anytime soon. It’s better to start a dialogue with your child and help them to understand your fears.


Ask The Experts


“Your job isn’t necessarily to teach your child how to use technology,” says Dr. Rutledge. “Your job is to teach your child critical thinking and responsible behavior. You don’t have to know anything about the phone to teach the values you want for your child.”

Source: Digital Trends

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