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So Your Kid Wants a Cellphone: How Young Is Too Young?

How to introduce your child’s first cellphone: Best practices

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.

More: Dispatches From High School: Teens Talk 13 Reasons Why

“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:

  1. Install restrictive apps first. “When giving your child a cellphone, you may put a parental app on there. Make sure you haven’t made any purchases on their phone, as the store may remember your card details,” Curtis says.
  2. Take off the training wheels. Curtis continues, “As they get older, then reduce or remove [the app] — it’s really easy for a teen to bypass them anyway — and educate your child in safe use of the internet. Otherwise, the risk is that they won’t have the skills to know what to avoid when they do have access to unrestricted internet.”
  3. Avoid bedtime use. “Phones should be avoided immediately prior to bedtime (for a good 30 to 60 minutes) and not be used in the bedroom. This is because they affect the way that children sleep — the blue light emitted from them delays the release of the sleep drugs, and the vibrating/pinging/blinking of messages and notifications means that they sleep less deeply, as their brain is monitoring the phone,” Curtis says.

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.

Cell phones for kids
Image: Karen Cox/SheKnows;Image via Getty Images

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