It’s no surprise that teens and tweens are just as addicted to cellphones as we are. A recent report indicated that half of teens say they can’t live longer than a week without their phones, and 36 percent said they check their phones at least once every ten minutes. My teen-aged nephews are texting machines, averaging between 2000 and 3000 texts (sent and received) per month.
But beyond how cellphone-crazy teens and tweens have become, there’s one side of the story that has been missing. Mobile phones may be inevitable, but when is the right time for parents to get a child their own mobile phone? Most can agree that there is no single answer that is right for every parent and every child. And what is interesting is that my informal survey tells me Latino families are more inclined to have their kids use smartphones at an earlier age.
Lookout, makers of an app to help people keep their phones safe, recently worked with Harris Interactive to poll parents on what age they thought was the most appropriate age for a child to receive their first phone. U.S. parents expressed a wide range of opinions on the subject. Twenty-two percent of parents said they think age 10 is the right age, and 43 percent of total answers fell within the age range 10 to 12.
To get more context around the age opinions, the company polled their 265,000 Facebook fans on how they determine a child’s cellphone readiness, and safety was top of mind: 65 percent of respondents said that the child’s knowledge of how to use the phone safely and responsibly was the deciding factor. There were a number of other factors cited by those surveyed as weighing on whether a kid is old enough for a smartphone of their own:
- 13 percent said when they can afford it themselves.
- 4 percent said junior high was the right time, while 6 percent said high school.
- 4 percent gave smartphones as a reward for their child’s accomplishments.
- 3 percent were stressed out about the topic, and weren’t sure yet.
- 2 percent said once they can walk away from me, they can get a smartphone.
- 2 percent said no to smartphones until the kid moves out.
However ultimately, whether a kid, tween or teen is ready for a phone of their own is a matter of that individual child’s maturity level, and that’s something only that child’s parents are in a position to determine.
While parents might feel a sense of security knowing they can contact their kids wherever they are, having a mobile phone might also give a child access to inappropriate or undesirable apps, the web and the less-than-wholesome intentions of other people, from bullying to worse. As a kid’s age increases, so does the gravity of certain phone safety pitfalls, like sexting and texting/talking while driving.
So ask yourself these questions to make your own assessment – if you can answer ‘yes’ to all four, the time might be right for your child to own her own phone:
- Does your child need the phone to stay connected with you or for emergency situations?
- Does your child understand and respect the time and usage limits you have placed on other things, like television and video game playing?
- Does your child understand what types of apps are okay to download and how to surf the Internet safely?
- Does your child know how to use the phone safely and appropriately? (Do they know whom and whom not to communicate with? What they should and shouldn’t share online? What sorts of words and pictures NOT to send?)
How would you – or how did you – determine if your child is ready for a smartphone? Do you feel the Latino families are more or less inclined to give their kids smartphone earlier than 13?
Monica Vila is “Chief Technology Mom,” born and raised in Mexico and co-founder of The Online Mom, the market leader in providing online and off-line tools to make parents of kids K-12 smarter and more comfortable with the technology that touches their family. The Online Mom is a website, an online newsletter, a forum for discussion, a network of certified experts and a social community devoted to promoting a healthy understanding and appreciation for the positive role technology can play in a family’s life.