Having a smartphone can help your child be more independent as well as fit in socially. And it can give you peace of mind to be able to reach them when you aren’t together. But smartphones can be a mixed blessing. Access to the internet and social media can be damaging for a kid that isn’t old enough or mature enough to be exposed to the world.
To be a responsible smartphone user, your teen needs certain skills and abilities. The questions below can help you assess whether or not your kid is ready. If you can’t answer “yes” to most of them, keep in mind that she doesn’t have to start out with a smartphone. Basic starter cell phones limit the calls kids can send and receive—and some don’t offer texting or Internet access.
- They are old enough to legally have have social media accounts (13+ for most).
- Completes their homework on time without you having to remind them.
- Can get up and get ready for school on their own.
- Is responsible with their belongings and doesn’t need you to find their shoes, booksack, etc.
- Is consistently kind to family members which is an indicator if they will be kind online.
- Is comfortable communicating with people face-to-face.
- Knows that sleep is important for overall health and will abide by any cell phone limits.
- Remembers to do chores on their own without complaining.
- Can have mature conversations about proper use of technology and social media and is okay with parents knowing passwords and checking in as needed.
- Gets off of other people’s devices after first warning without getting upset and can move onto another activity.
- Will they keep track of and respect limits on the phone’s plan (minutes, texts, data and so forth)?
- Can they gauge what other places the phone is off-limits (movie theaters or religious services, for example)?
- Do they understand what harassment and inappropriate contact look like?
- Can they plan, organize and explain her thoughts well in speech or in writing?
- Can they follow a conversation without using body language to pick up on what others mean?
- Are they willing to follow the code of conduct contract?
There is a chance that you have a child who is remarkably
responsible and can check off all of these boxes, but they are still too
young to legally access social media. Does that mean you should just
hand them a smartphone and access to the internet? Probably not. So,
while these benchmarks are helpful, remember that we want to keep
smartphones out of our children’s hands as long as possible. Only you
can decide what is right for your child and every situation is unique.
You can ask yourself, “Is there any situation in which my child really
needs a cell phone?” If the answer is no, then wait and let them enjoy a
distraction-free childhood—because they only get one chance.