In this age of technology, smartphones, iPads, and laptops have become essential to communicate and work from home during the pandemic. For children, iPads and laptops became necessary to continue attending school and learning. Screen time has become part of the daily curriculum for students in kindergarten through high school.

Now, as students return to school and resume their extracurriculars, you may wonder if you should give your young ones a smartphone to stay connected with you. Tracking abilities can be an easy way to monitor your child’s safety. But is it worth the risk of sucking away their attention and exposing them to a wider range of media?

If you’re contemplating giving your child their own smartphone, there are two things you should consider first.

Their age.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 18 months should have no exposure to screen time, while kids ages two and up should have consistent limits on media. Too much screen time can damage young, developing brains because they learn early on to crave easy dopamine triggered by their smartphone.

This “feel-good” chemical released by the brain during screen time is what makes these electronics so addictive. It can also hinder social skills development and disconnect children from seeking basic needs, like eating, sleeping, and physical activity.

Around age 13, children can better understand the permanence of what they post online and the consequences that come with it. However, they must understand how to handle technology responsibly.

Their maturity level.

While different ages come with certain developmental concerns, maturity levels can differ. A socially mature 11-year-old may handle cell phone responsibilities better than a 15-year-old who acts out on his or her phone.

Children these days are much savvier with technology than ever before, but some understand the importance of safe Internet usage better than others. You may want to ask yourself a few questions to determine if they are ready to receive a cell phone:

  • How well do they pick up on social cues? If they don’t seem to catch on quickly, this may worsen with exposure to social media and texting. They may not understand why no one responds to their one-word messages or accidentally offend a friend without realizing how their words may affect others.
  • How often do they lose things, both expensive and inexpensive? A lost sweater, a forgotten lunch pail, or a few dollars, how well do they take care of their things? If they constantly seem to misplace even important items, they may not be ready to take care of a smartphone.
  • How well does your child understand consequences? If they are impulsive with money or technology, they may end up spending real cash on diamonds, coins, or extra lives in games. It might seem like a few cents here and there, but that quickly adds up.
  • How well do they handle screen time limitations? When you say it’s time to stop playing their video game or get off the laptop, are they receptive? Do they compromise? Or do they throw tantrums? If they can’t seem to turn off their devices when it’s time to stop, they will most likely have the same problem with a smartphone.

If you feel like your child is not yet ready for a smartphone but safety is still a big concern, you can purchase a flip phone with no Internet access. There are various kid-friendly flip phones or smartwatches from cell phone companies with a list of parent-approved contacts and calling and texting capabilities. The smartwatches and some flip phones also include a GPS locator.

However, if you feel like your child is ready to own a smartphone, sit down with your child and discuss the limits and responsibilities that come with it. Tell them what you expect of them and that you have the right to take it away if they are not using it wisely. It’s crucial to monitor your child’s social media sites and ensure they are wise with what they post. Communicate that you trust them to make the right decisions but that they should expect you to see their posts from time to time.

Ultimately, giving your child a smartphone means trusting them with more responsibility. Teaching them how to use it wisely now will prepare them to do the same when they eventually leave and need to make decisions independently.  

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