What age is the “right age” to give your child a smartphone?
According to a new poll of 2,000 parents, parents have decided that 10-years-old is the right age, with new research revealing that the big 1-0 is the average age a child in the U.S. gets their first smartphone.
The debate on what age should a kid get a phone
But there’s a push among parents and experts to delay a kid’s first phone (and social media usage) until they’ve officially entered their teen years.
“Wait Until 8th” is a social movement and pledge parents are making with themselves—and their children—to resist the pressure around receiving smartphones before 8th grade. The movement encourages groups of families with kids in the same grade to take the pledge together.
“Our hope is to create a support network for those parents who would like to wait on giving their child a phone,” Wait Until 8th founder Brooke Shannon told Today. “We hope by creating this pledge, parents that would like to wait will feel more empowered to do so.”
(For those concerned with situations where a kid might need a phone to call someone, she suggests a flip phone.)
Similarly, the US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, said in an interview with CNN Newsroom that “13 is too early” for social media and urged parents to “band together” to put off joining the platforms “until 16 or 17 or 18 or whatever age they choose.”
“It’s a time where it’s really important for us to be thoughtful about what’s going into how they think about their own self-worth and their relationships and the skewed and often distorted environment of social media often does a disservice to many of those children,” he said.
How parents decide on phones for kids
Deciding to give your child a phone may not coincide with exactly when you’d ideally want to give them a phone, and parents are left navigating difficult contradictions.
Child safety is impacted by smartphones in positive and negative ways. Similarly, kids with smartphones are more able to stay in touch with their friends, but are also more susceptible to digital addictions and online bullying and blackmail. Plus, the reality is that studies have also revealed that parents aren’t necessarily modeling healthy phone behavior themselves.
Parents navigating technology for their kids live in a world full of complexities and contradictions.
The poll, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Cricket Wireless, showed some additional interesting attitudes about tech:
Seven in 10 (70%) parents trust their kids with tech, while two-thirds (66%) have put parental controls on all their children’s devices for security concerns.
Seems like many parents live in the tension between their ideals and reality, choosing to take a trust but verify approach.
Plus, many parents today largely grew up in a world without smartphones, so the decision about if and when to get their kids a phone can be a fraught one.
“We plan on holding off as long as possible,” Jackie Cornell Laabs told Motherly. “My parents got me mine when I was 16 and driving for ‘emergencies.’” But that was 20 years ago, Cornell Laabs admits.
Her plan for her kids? “No sooner than junior high and then with ALL the parental restrictions possible. I don’t want them on social media 24/7.”
Other mothers report aiming for the same. Katie Dobies Malone is thinking “middle school. I have a nine-year-old right now and she has asked. I work full time and giving her a phone to call me when she needs to be picked up from practices and friends’ houses would be helpful.”
The pros and cons of phones for kids
But what if your child’s friends all already have phones, and your kid is the one left out?
Rebecca Burnette told Motherly, “My oldest was in 3rd grade last year and was one of the only kids in her class who didn’t have [a smartphone]. It’s going to become harder to hold the line. We have a kids tablet at home to start working on good internet habits in a more controlled environment. It’s already been a good challenge and learning experience for both parents and kids.”
The research on smartphones and little minds isn’t great—studies indicate early and frequent smartphone use is correlated with worse child behavioral issues, mental health crises, and health issues like a lack of sleep.
Yet many parents want their kids to be connected to them and to their friends, and view tech literacy as a key skill their kids will need in the future.
There’s a major tension when it comes to kids and tech, and parents are caught in the middle. Plus, experts point out that it’s often parents’ own addictions to devices that most negatively impact family life, so the conversation should focus more holistically on the family’s screentime use patterns, rather than just on the child’s devices and behaviors.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a smartphone readiness checklist, knowing that a one-size-fits-all approach to the decision doesn’t take into account the unique needs and maturity of each family and child. If you’re struggling to make the decision about if and when to introduce a phone to your kid, you can take that quiz here.
A version of this post was first published July 28, 2022. It has been updated.