Many parents wondered when to hand over the car keys to their child in past decades, but now the case is different. These days, parents face trickier questions: At what age should they get their child a cell phone?
After all, the smartphone is the key to barrier-free access to the Internet and the many pros and cons that come with it. But unlike driving a vehicle, which is legal in certain states from the age of 16, there are no legal guidelines for parents to assess whether a child is ready to use a smartphone.
This is a typical matter, and each parent would have their own opinion and reason for validating their choices. So, rather than just sharing the prevailing views or adding new pointers to it, we highlight the expert's recommendation on the appropriate age for mobile phone usage backed by several research studies.
According to Statista, today's current number of smartphone users is 3.8 billion, which means 48.37% of the world's population owns a smartphone. This figure is up sharply compared with 2016 when there were only 2.5 billion users, or 33.58% of the world's population that year. Today, it's difficult to keep kids away from electronic gadgets in this highly digitized era, especially mobile devices. Kids either wants a mobile to access the world of the Internet or any of their classmates have got one. But, the main concern is when to give them a cell phone?
According to the latest research, on average, a child gets a smartphone at 10.3 years old. That same study shows that by age 12, a full 50 per cent of children have social media accounts (primarily Facebook and Instagram).
Common Sense Media reports that one in five children has a telephone at the age of eight. While Pew Research Center depicts that the average age is between 12 and 13. However, when to get your child a mobile phone is a personal decision; it should be based more on the kid's maturity and need. Caroline Knorr, the parenting editor, Common Sense Media, emphasized that age shouldn't be the deciding factor. The child's maturity and capacity to be a responsible phone user should determine whether their child is ready to own a smartphone. She states your child could be 15 and still not ready for the responsibility of having a phone, but a 12-year-old may have the mental maturity to know what to do and not to do on the phone. As a parent, you should decide if your child is phone-ready.
As the American Academy of Pediatrics states, there is no "right" age for children to start using technology. What is important, they point out, is that parents determine what makes sense to their children based on the family's needs.
"All we can do: keep the pace reasonable and developmentally appropriate and allow our kids to use technologies that make sense without granting them access to technologies that don't make sense for their age," the Academy said.
The Academy, therefore, recommended introducing technology as needed and creating a family media use plan. This includes such things as a media curfew, establishing technological values, discussing how the Internet works and walking through usage cases and more.
Correspondingly, Bill Gates, the Microsoft billionaire, in an interview with The Mirror in 2017, said, "We don't carry cellphones to the table when we are having a meal, we didn't give our kids cellphones until they were 14 and they complained other kids got them earlier." Also added that he didn't even give an iPad to their kids when it was released; also, the family sets other usage and screen-time limits.
Here is an age guide for making a wise decision
Age group - four to six
This is a crucial period for the development of the brain. Within that age group, children should not be exposed to smartphones (or other mobile devices), period.
The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) recommends limiting screen time to less than one hour a day for children ageing two to five years; meanwhile, screen time for children younger than two years old is not recommended at all. As well, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends consistent limits on media consumption for children six years of age and older. At a very young age, smartphones can affect a child's brain development, says Michael Cheng, a child psychiatrist and family at the Children's Hospital of Ottawa in eastern Ontario.
We all know how addictive mobile technology has become. Cheng explains it too. The use of mobile devices causes the brain to become wired at a young age and needs easy "dopamine", which refers to the chemical "well-being" released by the brain. Constant overstimulation of the screens gives the brain dopamine (and adrenalin) attacks, which is why they are so addictive.
He also adds it's not that the technology is bad for kids, but it is the way such technologies are used. Mobile technologies become so addictive that it disconnects kids from basic needs, including proper sleep, nutrition, physical activity and fresh air. While, in higher needs, it is a sense of belonging and meaning in life.
Moreover, if children become reliant on mobile technology, they may not learn social skills as they do in person. Therefore, it is important to keep them out of the technology whenever possible. They should be allowed to interact face to face, look into the eyes of another human being to learn to develop empathy and read facial expressions—what makes another child happy or sad.
Also, the Internet world is full of ostensibly harmless content that can affect a child if not monitored or are unknown to parents.
Age group - seven to nine
As per the experts' recommendation, similar to prior mentioned age groups, this age group gets a "No." In case if few parents want their kids to have phones to keep a check on them when they're away from home, one can provide phones with no Internet access.
Accessing the Internet may compel them to access social media, which is not recommended at this age. In this age group, kids hardly understand the 'permanent nature' of posting things over the Internet because critical-thinking skills don't kick in until age 13. This lack of understanding may make them a victim of cyberbullying. As per the MediaSmarts report, kids in class four who have access to cell phones, about one-fifth of them use social media networks like Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram, although their policies require users to be a minimal 13 years old.
For this age group, The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology states that children aged 5-11 years old should limit their screen time to not more than two hours a day, while lower levels are associated with additional health benefits.
Age group - ten to twelve
Experts recommend the same for kids under this age group. Parents should impose strict limitations on cell phone use at this age and not give children Internet-enabled mobile devices. They should only be able to use phones for calling purposes. It has been found that excessive screen time is associated with unhealthy habits, such as eating more junk food and excess weight gain followed by health problems.
In addition, overuse of mobile devices may cause emotional damage.
But, we can also not deny that mobile devices are a necessity now, not only for entertainment but also for learning purpose. And in reality, many kids are getting their first Internet-enabled smartphones around age 10.
According to a British study, girls in this age group are especially vulnerable, with more time spent on social media associated with emotional and behavioural issues later in adolescence. In such a scenario, it is strongly recommended to install parental checks and advise parents not to use the phone as a disciplinary tool.
Above twelve years
Many experts recommend that at the age of 13, a child should be prepared for the supervised use of a smartphone. However, as mentioned above, parents should consider their child's level of maturity prior to handling them with a mobile phone.
During the kids' teenage, parents should control phone usage while keeping a check that their teen may not fall prey to cyberbullying as social media is quite stressful and comes with unexpected mishappenings, and kids need parents to help them deal with that stress.
The use of mobile devices also shows the link between the increased use of mobile devices by adolescents and a spike in mental health issues.
As per the Canadian Association of Optometrists screen time guidelines, teens should have a maximum of two hours of screen time a day, including a break after 60 minutes of use, with 30 minutes being encouraged.
Besides the age-group guide, if you're willing to give your child a phone after finding them to be mature enough, then there are several ways to measure a child's maturity level. Check whether they make mature decisions such as finishing their homework on time without being informed or keeping the commitments they have made? Do they say "please" and "thank you?"
Additionally, to be ready for a phone, your child should have a firm grasp of these simple tasks and understand what it means to be kind and respectful to others, even if they aren't in return. See, Are they aware of what needs to be done every day? How they deal with their daily routine. Moreover, the common traits of mature children are: they are polite and thankful, even for the simplest things.
Observe your child's behaviour. Are they performing well in school? etc. The list is endless, but their overall behaviour would make it clear if they're mature enough to get a mobile device.
Furthermore, if you're yet in a dilemma to give or not give a cell phone to your kids, find yourself answers to these questions.
- Does my child understand that phones cost a hefty amount?
- Does my child keep track of their belongings?
- Does my child respect other people's property?
- Can I trust my child?
If you get a clear answer to these, we suggest trialling a phone.
As long as your child has a basic understanding of the values and respect people and their property, it could be worth exploring the idea.