Is Your Child Ready for a Smartphone?

5 considerations before buying your child a phone.
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Shutterstock photo

You’ve heard the pitch. Her best friend has a smartphone, so when does your daughter get to have one? Your son is begging you too, every day. Their questioning can make you as anxious as it makes them. So how do you know when your child is ready? Consider the following when determining the best age to get your child a smartphone.

Check their maturity. Kids don’t use phones the way adults do. The human brain takes a long time to develop, and the frontal cortex — the judgment and reasoning center — is the last to “come in.” Teen brains are not mature. Many teens even take a U-turn and seem to become less mature once a phone becomes a crutch. 

Your children can demonstrate their readiness by their level of responsibilities with non-tech activities at home. Put the ball back in their court. Do they walk the dog, practice the piano, and do homework without your daily reminders? Can they clean the bathroom and the kitchen the way you do? To become responsible, independent kids, it is best to master some real-life skills before adding distractions that could increase their anxiety and derail their development. If you still wash their clothes and remind them to brush their teeth, your children are telling you they’re not ready for the responsibility of a smartphone or social media.

Consider their communication skills. Face-to-face communication can be one of the first things to go when a child getsa smartphone. Can your child can initiate and carry an interesting conversation with an adult, while making sustained eye contact? Can she call a parent to confirm a carpool ride? Does your child talk with you about things that really matter? Be sure these things are dialed in before handing over a smartphone.

Unsettling graphic images. More graphic content is seen by children who have smartphones than children who don’t. Are you ready to risk what your child might stumble onto?

Consider the mental-health risk. Research shows that adolescent mental well-being and happiness has plummeted with the arrival of smartphones, much of it tied to social media, which is easily accessible with a smartphone. “Excessive social media use can impact a child’s psychological, cognitive, and social development, causing relationship issues, poor grades, anxiety and depression,” says child psychiatrist Victoria Dunckley. This season called childhood will be over in a flash — don’t sabotage it with one premature decision.

Follow the phone company’s lead. Did you know that according to the Federal Communication Commission, a child must be 18 to legally purchase a smartphone? Many parents actually agree with this and use this as a guideline. “But we let our kids drive cars and they can’t buy them,” you say. Yes, but not until they are at least 16, have gone through extensive training, taken a test (usually failing it the first time), and are under strict rules even after getting their permit. If you want your child to have a phone so he or she can keep in touch after school, start with a basic phone. A simple start is a teaching tool. Having a basic phone doesn’t come with the apps that can lead to less face-to-face communication, social anxiety and graphic images.

The next time he or she asks for a smartphone, confidently smile and say, “You are not ready yet.” Then invite some of the kids’ friends over, make pizzas from scratch and ask the friends to leave their smartphones in a basket at the door.

Melanie Hempe is the founder of Families Managing Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families reduce childhood screen overuse and reconnect families. For more information on local seminars and workshops visit