Your child may have been asking for their first phone for months now. Apparently, all their friends have one! But like me, you may find yourself wondering whether it is too soon, especially with the prevalence of cyberbullies, predators and other nasties regularly making the news.
So, when is the right age to buy your child their first phone?
As parents, our job is to ensure our kids are safe and not put in situations beyond their maturity. And while it would upset most parents to know their child might be ostracised in the playground for not owning a smartphone, our decision should be based around their readiness. Are they ready to take on the responsibility that comes with phone ownership and do they have the ability and resilience to deal with any unpleasant mishaps?
Phone Usage By Kids Is Up 41%
Almost half (46%) of Aussie kids used a mobile phone in 2020 according to a survey by the Australian Communication and Media Authority. This usage was up from 41% in 2015. The survey also showed that in the 12 months to June 2020, a third of kids (33%) aged 6 to 13 owned the mobile phone they use, which is unchanged for the last few years.
Playing games, taking photos/videos and using apps were the most common activities most kids undertook on their phones in the 12 months to June 2020 as well as texting or calling parents or family members.
Benefits to buying their first phone
There’s absolutely no doubt phones have huge benefits: I love being able to stay in contact with my boys, being able to organise pick-ups and drops offs, knowing they can use it to learn and of course, they love being entertained! But, before bowing to the dreaded peer group pressure, parents should evaluate exactly why they are purchasing a smartphone for their child and whether in fact their child is ready for the responsibility.
Is Your Child Ready Yet?
Here are some questions that may help you make the all-important decision:
- Does my child need to be in touch for safety reasons, such as unsupervised commutes to school or activities?
- Will they accept and agree to limits on screen time?
- Can they be trusted not to use their phone during class time?
- Do they understand the negatives in terms of bullies, trolls, inappropriate content and predators?
In my opinion, purchasing a phone should be all about your child’s mental readiness, rather than just their age alone. Where a phone is essential for safety reasons, but maturity may not yet have caught up, there are simple base model phones with limited functionality that might be a safer option. This means that children can still reach a parent or carer, and play basic games but not much else. Perfect!
How To Keep Them Safe Once You Own Their First Phone
Being realistic and knowing that issues will arise once your kids have their own devices is probably a good place to start. I hate to think how many phones my boys have lost, how many dodgy apps they have downloaded (which were eventually addressed) and extra data charges they have racked up over the years. But the good news is that there are a few steps you can take to make this new phase in your family’s life as seamless as possible.
Invest in Parental Controls
Parental controls can be a fantastic tool for keeping children safe online and affording much-needed peace of mind for parents. There is software available for download, and sometimes even already built into devices, that can limit in-app purchases, restrict functionality to talk and text only, and monitor screen time and apps or webpages visited. Using these features age-appropriately can be a huge help in developing trust, resilience, responsibility and cyber know-how as they grow and mature.
Practice Good Cyber Hygiene
Ensuring that not just the kids, but the whole family, is regularly updating software, changing passwords, and reviewing privacy policies can go a very long way in protecting against cyber threats that infect devices with nasty viruses or steal valuable personal information. I’m a big fan of using password managers and enabling automatic updates.
Consider A Digital Contract But ALWAYS Model Good Behaviour
Many parents swear by a digital contract with their kids which clarifies expectations from the outset, including modelling cyber-hygiene best practices, screen time limits, and age appropriateness of apps and downloads. But to be truly useful parents should also practise what they preach and also model these behaviours with their own devices, especially in terms of screen time. If kids see their role models always on devices, it sends the wrong message.
There is no magic age for kids to receive their first smartphone, but by making sure they are aware of the risks and have a thorough understanding of how to manage them is a great place to start. And please, vow to remain calm when an issue arises – even if it is just on the outside! Because I guarantee that if you don’t, you’ll probably never hear about an issue again. And that’s the last thing we want!
Do you have any advice to offer parents who are considering buying their child their first phone? Tell us in the comments below.