When to Give Your Child a Smartphone

8 Tough Questions to Ask Before You Buy Your Child a Mobile Phone

A picture of a child holding up a smartphone
Young kids used to dream of the day they would have their own car but now they start bugging their parents about getting a smartphone at an early age. Photo © Fabrice LEROUGE / Getty Images

We hand our kids our smartphones just to keep them quiet and happy while we shop for groceries, wait at the doctor's office or simply need a moment's peace for ourselves. It should be no surprise then that they one day come to us and ask for their very own smartphone. Before you decide to buy your child a smartphone, ask yourself some tough questions to make sure you're ready and so are they:

At What Age Do Others Get Smartphones?
Being asked for a smartphone is one of the newest parenting struggles we're facing as technology and the world around us continues to change.

Research from Lookout revealed 77% of kids ages 12 to 17 own their own smartphone. And 56% of parents said their kids between 8 and 12 years of age also owned a smartphone.

Unlike the hard number of 18 when a child legally becomes an adult, there's not a magic age for when you should give your child a smartphone. The numbers are all over the place but they can be used as a guide when making your decision.

Why Does Your Child Need a Smartphone?
An important factor to consider is why your child needs a smartphone. Most parents buy their kids smartphones because they want to stay in touch. The convenience of tracking apps and being able to call their children whenever they want can bring parents a lot of peace of mind.

In fact, Consumer Reports surveyed parents of 8 to 12 year olds who owned their own smartphones to ask why they chose to buy their kids phones. The survey showed 84% of parents gave their children smartphones for safety reasons, 73% said they wanted to track their children's after-school activities and only 16% purchased a smartphone because their kids asked.

Why Does Your Child Want a Smartphone?
Ask 10 kids why they want smartphones and you'll likely get 10 different answers. Some will say it's so they can call mom if they need to while others will say they want one because all of their friends have smartphones.

Have your child sit down and write a list of reasons why he wants a smartphone.

The answers can give you great insight as you make your decision and also clue you in on the kinds of apps you should install and parental controls you should activate to keep him out of trouble. For example, many kids may want to get a smartphone so they can interact with their friends through social media. Nielsen research found that 80% of 14-17 year olds use social media on their smartphones. Knowing this can help you stay two steps ahead by identifying the safe social networks for kids and getting him set up on them.

Is He Responsible Enough for a Smartphone?
We all want to think our children are responsible. When it comes to phones, we also tend to think it's just a phone so what's the big deal?

Even basic smartphones can be expensive. You want to make sure that he's not going to drop it in the toilet at school or leave it at the park. Sure, accidents happen but only you know if your child is ready or if he has a history that's going to repeat when given this added responsibility of having a smartphone.

Is He Mature Enough to Own a Smartphone?
Before you pay for a smartphone and add the monthly cost for a line, data and texting to your plan, you want to know that the phone is not going to spend more time in a drawer because you took it away from him as punishment.

If he's not mature enough now, set a date to revisit the conversation with him. The decision to buy him a smartphone doesn't have to be today, despite what your child says.

Do You Have an Open Line of Communication with Your Child?
Your child may be mature and responsible enough to carry a smartphone but someone at his school or in his social circle may not be. Unfortunately, smartphones are one of the newest avenues for kids to bully each other.

If your child fears he will lose his smartphone because of someone else's actions toward him, he may not tell you he's being bullied. Before you give him a smartphone, make sure you have an open line of communication where he knows he can come to you at any time should he find himself in a situation where he's being bullied, someone he doesn't know is interacting with him through the phone, etc.

It's important to talk to your kids and let them know you're there to help.

Will You Be Able to Take It Away from Him?
If your child misuses his phone, will you be able to take it away from him? It sounds simple enough but once he has that phone, it will feel like the equivalent of taking away his car.

Just think about it. How would you feel if someone took your smartphone away? Now try being a child who's had something he feels is so important taken away from him. It's definitely something you have to consider as you make your decision. And it's something he should know he will lose if he breaks the rules you've laid out for him.

Do You Want Him to Have a Smartphone?
The bottom line is: do you want him to have his own smartphone? There are plenty of reasons to give your child a smartphone and plenty of reasons not to.

Regardless of what other parents are doing, stick to what you think is right for your child. No one knows him like you do and you're the only one who can make this important decision for him.