Both the experts and the parents seem to agree on one thing: Age doesn’t matter half as much as maturity when it comes to a child owning their first cellphone.
Once a parent feels a child is ready to keep track of and responsibly use a connected cellphone, Lord advises setting clear expectations first: “Cellphones are ubiquitous at this point, so take the time to establish limits on what the phone may and may not be used for — for example, positive features like educational apps, camera and communication with family.” He adds, “It is always smart to limit the time a child has with a phone, and not 100 percent at a young age. But to have it in a backpack at school or after-school activities can bring everyone some security.”
Richard Daniel Curtis, author of The Kid Calmer and leading behavior expert who has appeared on BBC and ITV, agrees that a child’s responsibility level far outweighs their age for first-time cellphone use.
“For example, they must be able to know to not make in-app purchases, and they need to understand the dangers of the internet so they don't end up using the phone to access inappropriate sites. One of the big risks with kids having phones is the risk of grooming, trolling or bullying through social media, and kids need to know how to avoid it. To have this level of understanding, a child will be 10 to 12 normally.”
When a child appears ready for their first phone, Curtis recommends:
For the parents of middle schoolers who just aren’t feeling it yet, MacMillan says that it’s A-OK to dig in your heels a bit. No parent should feel like it’s mandatory for their child to have a cellphone or access to social media at a certain age, he explains.
“Fully a quarter of teens still do not have mobile devices, and many still have little or no access to social media," says MacMillan.
The experts agree that whether you choose to start your child early or start them late, it’s best to not enter into this new stage of parenting until you both feel ready.
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