When is it age appropriate for a child's first cell phone?

Published: December 9, 2012


I’m fairly certain we have all seen that baby-faced child walking around the store with his very own smartphone, and we can’t help but think to ourselves, “Who could he possibly be talking to? He doesn't look any older than [enter age here]!” Which would most likely his peers who also happen to have smartphones. Even when I got my first cell phone at the age of 14, it was rare for any of my friends to have one until maybe a year or so later. It’s difficult for me to imagine anybody getting a phone before the age of 13; even then, that was pushing the limit when I was younger. However, that phrase right there is the key: “When I was younger.”

Kids today have a completely different concept of cell phones and what they are for. What started out as a way for us to talk to people while we were away from home has turned into an entire entertainment system that features music, games, movies, and a way for us to take pictures of our lunches and apply countless filters to them. Children are very observant, and in a way act very much like parrots. They will copy their parents and the people they are around most, so if mom and dad are on their smartphones a lot (as many of us are) they will likely pick up on how to use them and, due to the fact that they do have apps geared towards a child demographic, will probably want to use yours.

Yesterday, I watched my son play with my iPhone. He’s only two and he knows how to operate Netflix, plus a couple of other games on the phone. He doesn’t understand the phone or its purpose, but he doesn’t need to. He doesn’t see it as a phone; he sees it as a toy – which it practically is. That’s what I let him use it for, anyway. It won’t be much longer before he fully understands what does what on these devices, and I predict he will be an app developer by age 5. It’s both fascinating and strange to see how well these children interact with devices like smartphones, tablets, and (what I consider to be) complicated gaming consoles. It’s probably the same thing my parents experienced when I picked up on how computers worked when I was younger.

Going to a little bit older crowd are my younger siblings, who are ages 8 and 11. Both of them want phones, but do they really have any reason to have one? For my little brother - who is 11 – probably does.  Many children his age actually do have phones. Some messaging phones, some smartphones. A small part of me deems it rational. I’m considering giving my son a phone when he starts middle school, albeit probably not a fancy one. However, I do think that it’s good to have one for emergencies or if a child is involved in after school activities. As for my sister, who is 8, I feel that third grade might be a little too young. Most of her friends do not have a phone yet, and she mostly wants it for the gaming aspect, while my brother would rather have it for social purposes.  

I think that as more time passes and phones keep progressing, children will keep getting phones earlier and earlier – to an extent. Children will obviously need to have the language capabilities to justify any real need for having a phone at such a young age, so I could see children as young as 5 or 6 carry phones sometime in the future. I have yet to come across a child who owned one at that age, but I’m sure some lucky kid out there has their own cell phone before they have even graduated Kindergarten.

At what age do you think it is appropriate for kids to have their own cell phone, with or without restrictions? I feel that each parent has a right to decide when they think is best to give their child a phone, so I’m intrigued to hear some of the opinions or concerns you guys have regarding such a decision, if any. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Image via The Guardian


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