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How old should you have to be to own a smartphone?

 children smartphone

The first cell phone I ever purchased was the original Motorola Razr. I actually resisted the cell phone revolution until 2004 when Motorola’s super-thin phone lured me in, but I was already in my late twenties by then. These days, no one waits until they’re on the brink of 30 years old to get a phone. Cell phones and smartphones are becoming a must-have item on every kid’s wish list. It’s not about making phone calls; it’s about having a camera, audio player, gaming device, web browser, and the ability to access social media and send texts.

Mobile phones are an important invention for the human race. They have definitely changed the way the world communicates and they will continue to do so. Most of us own some kind of mobile phone. According to The World Bank‘s fairly conservative estimate, 75 percent of the world’s population has access to a mobile phone. So how old should a child reach — what milestone — before its okay to own a phone? 

What about kids?

As it turns out, not very old. Nielsen research recently revealed that 58 percent of 13 to 17 year olds living in the U.S. right now have a smartphone. That’s a smartphone, an Android device or an iPhone (possibly a Windows Phone or a BlackBerry, but probably not). If we throw regular old cell phones into the mix then the figure goes up. Lookout estimates that 77 percent of 12 to 17 year olds in the U.S. have a cell phone of some kind.

You can’t blame kids for wanting one given that their peers probably have one. That “well if they jumped off a cliff would you jump too?” line is only going to work for so long. The trouble is parent’s opinions about what age is appropriate for cell phone bestowment vary wildly.

How young is too young?

kid using smartphone

Would it surprise you to learn that the Lookout report also revealed that 22 percent of parents think 10 years old is an appropriate age for kids to get their first phone? Does that sound too young to you?

Kids do mature at different rates. Before you equip your child with a smartphone, you really need to consider whether they have the understanding or the skills to use it. You might want a young child to have a basic cell phone for emergency calls, but there’s a world of difference between that and the latest iPhone.

While 10 might sound too young, most parents would agree that a teen should have their own cell phone by the time they are 16 years old. Wouldn’t they?

A lot depends on the reason behind your child getting a phone. Let’s take a look at some pros and cons.

Why your child should have a phone

Keep in touch: Some parents see mobile phones as an ideal way to keep in touch with their children. Kids can check in with their parents, phone when they need a lift, and make emergency calls if something bad should ever happen. You can even use a cell phone to track your child’s location – all the major carriers offer this service for a reasonable monthly subscription. A cell phone can provide peace of mind for an anxious parent.

Google Maps > stranger: With a smartphone, your kids won’t get lost ever again. It’s frightening when you get lost, but thanks to navigation options like Google Maps, if your kid has a smartphone they can always get directions home and they won’t have to ask a stranger.

Education: Technology is a big part of everything now and it’s important that your kids are exposed to it and learn to use it so they can reap the benefits later in life. Check out the potential for educational help with our back to school apps roundup. A cell phone can also help to teach them about budgeting and taking care of their possessions.

So he/she can socialize: Socializing is an important part of your teenage years and you want your child to be involved and feel like they are on level ground with their peers. When I was a kid we would “call round” for people by actually physically going to their house and ringing the doorbell. It was a huge waste of time and if you ever lost a friend when you were out somewhere there was no way to contact them. Cell phones are so convenient for arranging social situations, that the lack of one could leave your kid out of the loop.

Be nice: Smartphones are awesome. We adults are buying them in our droves and using them for all sorts of purposes. Don’t assume your kid will get up to no good – they probably want a smartphone for many of the same reasons you do.

Why your child shouldn’t have a phone

Study: Teens know it's bad to text and drive, do it anyways (no way!)

Kids can be data hogs: Do you trust that they have money skills or understand limits? They could run up big bills for overage charges on data or app purchases. Smartphones are also potentially very expensive.

Inappropriate content: Consider the fact that a smartphone allows them to surf the web and access all kinds of content. Not all content is good. 

Stranger danger: If your kid is texting or chatting on a cell phone, you have no idea who is on the other end. Your kid could be talking to someone bad. They can also take photos and potentially share them with anyone.

Texting and driving: For older teens, texting while driving is a serious concern.

Sweep aside the cons

The good news is that you can sweep away all these concerns by choosing the right device, the right plan, and considering parental controls.

First of all, decide whether they need a smartphone or if a basic cell phone would do the trick. A nice feature phone would still allow them to text friends, track location, take photos, listen to music, and even play basic games. It’s also way cheaper and seems to make more sense for young kids. You may even want to consider something really basic for emergencies, like the OwnFone.

Check out the family plan deals and dedicated plans for kids and see what would suit you and your child best. You can set hard limits and block access to app purchases if you want to.

You can also look into your many options for parental controls. Some carriers provide services and there are many apps available. They allow you to do all sorts of things like: block specific numbers or only allow specific numbers, set times when the phone cannot be used, limit access to the web, set time limits for usage, and even remotely cut cell phone service when your teenager is driving.

Rules and reasons

Most important of all, sit down with your child and explain what they should and shouldn’t do in detail. Give them reasons and make sure they know that their new phone is a privilege. Ultimately, if you want to ensure that your kids use technology responsibly and safely you have to make them aware of the dangers. It also helps if you are at least a bit tech savvy yourself.

There’s no right answer to the question of how old kids should be to own a smartphone. The truth is it depends on your kid and it depends on you. We’d love to hear your opinions though, so please post a comment and weigh in on the debate. If you’re a parent, what are your concerns? Have you given your kid a cell phone or smartphone? How did it work out? Any tips for other parents? If you’re a teen or even younger do you want a phone? If so why? What would you use it for?