Is my child ready for a smartphone?

“Anna is 11, and some of her friends have phones already,” says local mom Meredith. “How do we know when she’s ready for a smartphone of her own?”

Does this sound familiar? Kids seem to be wanting their own phones at younger and younger ages. There’s no denying that smartphones are a part of our daily lives, as well as our children’s lives. Phones can help kids feel socially connected, help keep them safe through security apps, encourage them to develop technological skills, and even help with homework through message boards and tutorial apps.

Opinions vary widely on the “right age” to give your child a phone. When it comes to deciding whether your child is ready for the responsibilities of their own phone, it’s not so much about a particular age as it is about a child’s social awareness and understanding of what the technology means. An immature 15-year-old may not be able to handle the responsibilities that go with a phone, while a mature 12-year-old might have no problem. As a parent, you know your child better than anyone, and you’re the best judge of their ability to handle their own phone. Here are some things to consider as you go through the decision-making process:

Cost: Does it make sense to spend significant money on something your child could easily lose or break? This is an especially important factor to consider if your child easily loses their possessions.

Runaway data charges: We’ve all read stories of children naively charging small fortunes to their parents’ credit cards on games and other apps. Your bill can skyrocket without your child understanding that they’re costing you money.

Getting hurt: Cyberbullying is a disturbing trend affecting children around the world. Cyberbullying can range from hate speech to sexual remarks to ridicule and threats.

Checking out: For many parents, the most threatening aspect of the phone is how attention-consuming it is. Texting with friends can quickly take over a child’s life. How well does your child do with limits to screen time? If they are constantly glued to the computer or game console, they will likely have a hard time putting down the phone as well.

If you decide to take the plunge and get your child a smartphone, it’s important to establish guidelines from the beginning. Here are a few ideas:

You’re in charge: Tell your child that you will know their phone password and that you have the right to take the phone away if you’re not satisfied that they’re using it wisely.

Be clear about expenses: Agree on limits to how much money is available to cover the data plan and any game or app expenses. If the phone is broken, who will pay for repair or replacement?

Set limits to phone time: Specify “no phone” times for family meals, late night, and until homework is done.

Whatever rules you enforce, make sure they are clear and consistent, and establish consequences if they’re not followed. You’re training your kids to make good decisions over time so that eventually, you can trust that they will make those good decisions on their own.

Children looking at smartphone