Jul 27th, 2016

If you’re a parent with children over the age of six, you’ve probably wondered when you should bite the bullet and get your child their first cell phone. As a parent of two adorable girls (7 and 4), I can tell you this question has come up more than once. My wife and I are not ready to hand over a smartphone to our oldest daughter quite yet, but we may be inclined to give in within the next few years.

Children these days are more tech-savvy than ever. Computers and tablets are being used in kindergarten and first grade in the majority of schools across the US and most parents are guilty of letting their toddlers play with smartphones or tablets. But there’s a big difference between letting your kids use technology for entertainment or education and handing them a smartphone to use as their own.

While many assume age is the most important factor when deciding when a child should get their first smartphone, it actually plays less of a role than you might think. In reality, the multiple factors that should be considered when determining when to give into your child’s “need” for a smartphone.

How responsible is your child?

Children get more responsible with age, but that doesn’t mean that every 12-year-old is equally responsible. If your child can take care of their own things and can be trusted to follow your family rules (even when you are not around), there’s a good chance that they could be trusted with a smartphone.

On the other hand, you might have a 15-year-old who doesn’t do their homework, stays up late playing video games and tries to bend the rules as much as possible. In that case, a smartphone could exacerbate the issues already at play.

  • Does your child lose things on a regular basis?
  • Can your child adhere to calling, messaging and data usage limitations?
  • Will your child refrain from using their smartphone in class or late at night?
  • Does your child understand the consequences of sharing inappropriate content?

Most of these questions can be addressed by teaching your children what your expectations are. In the end, parents must make a judgment call as to whether their child is responsible enough to have a smartphone of their own.

Determine your child’s “need” for a smartphone

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Every parent has heard their child’s desperate pleas. They often confuse “I need” with “I want.” But there are times that there may be a genuine need that could be solved by giving your child a smartphone.

Many times, these needs are created by unique family dynamics. If you child is involved in sports and is often traveling with a team, a smartphone could be a great tool to keep track of where they are.

Being able to call or message your child at all times can come in handy as well (as long as they answer or message you back). Being able to communicate with your child is extremely important if you’re stuck at work or are running late to pick them up from school.

If your child is constantly by your side or at home, there is likely little “need” for a smartphone. Watching YouTube, playing games or staying updated on social media typically don’t get classified as a “need,” but there are unique situations which could come into play for each one of those.

Set limitations

As much as you trust your child to use their phone in the right circumstances or only use specific apps, you’ll likely want to install a few apps on your child’s smartphone to ensure that your guidelines are followed. If your child is still really young, applications like kakatu give your child a safer application launcher which allows you to limit which apps can be used on the device, how much the phone can be used in a day and restrict who your child can call or text.

DinnerTime Plus is a great app which allows parents to set time restrictions on certain apps and even allows you to block the device from being used during certain times of the day (meal, study or sleep times). The best feature of the app is that parents can lock their children out of their smartphones at any time. Even if you trust your children completely, we recommend installing

Even if you trust your children completely, we recommend installing Life360 on their smartphone. The application allows all members of the family to keep track of each other’s locations at all times and set up alerts when they arrive and leave preset locations.

Keep in mind that many children know their way around smartphones and tablets better than their parents do. You may have to update your approach from time to time to ensure that you stay one step ahead of them.

The cost

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Setting your child up with a smartphone comes at a cost. Not only do you have to pay a few hundred dollars for a smartphone, but you may have to pay an extra $10-20 a month to add an additional line to your current plan. The final bill for the first year can range between $300 and $800, depending on what phone you buy.

The cheapest option would be to buy an unlocked phone and simply add an additional line to your account with no data. Your children will still be able to get online with their smartphone wherever they can find a WiFi signal. If data is a must, switching to T-Mobile may be something you should consider. T-Mobile offers the best deals on data, especially if you have a family plan with 3 or more lines.

Smartphone recommendations

Everyone always wants the latest and greatest smartphone, but your children should be more than happy if you give them a device you already own or a mid-range smartphone that doesn’t break the bank. We always recommend checking out our Best Smartphones for Kids list. We update the list every month so that you don’t have to research each and every device that’s on the market. If saving money is the ultimate goal, you can always buy a used smartphone from Swappa to grab a deal on an older device.

What are your recommendations?

If you’re a parent and have purchased a smartphone for your child, we’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below and let us and our readers know what factors you considered before buying your child a smartphone.