I was 16 when the Apple iPhone was unveiled in 2007. At the time, I had no idea what kind of impact that tiny handheld computer would have on the world, if any at all. Love it or hate it, looking at the world today, we can clearly see that the iPhone completely revolutionized the mobile industry. It’s rare to find somebody who uses a basic phone anymore. Even children are often seen just as engrossed in a smartphone screen these days.
But there's still question on whether kids should be using smartphones at all, and if so, what age is the appropriate age for them to start using one?
This is, of course, a subjective matter to the utmost degree. There will never be one factual answer; it always ends up being up to the parent if or when a child can start using a smartphone and, perhaps more importantly, what restrictions they will have on them.
From a personal perspective and from my own experience, I’m initially inclined not to let my kids have their own phone – smartphone or otherwise – until they have a job to pay for it. That’s when I was able to get my first cell phone (and is, in fact, the biggest reason I got a job at 14 in the first place). I felt that it taught me a valuable lesson on working towards things you want, especially things that require constant upkeep (such as paying your bill on time every month in order to keep it from getting shut off). Not once did my parents ever pay for my phone bill. If I couldn’t afford it, it was my fault and there was always the landline if I needed to call my friends.
However, like any parent, I do think of the implications that may occur should I choose to go this route. My kids won’t be able to get a tried and true job until they’re teenagers, and what if they’re left somewhere without a phone before then? While the situation is unlikely, I’d still like my kids to have a way to reach me if they ever needed to. Thankfully (although I think we tend to forget them) basic phones still exist, and parental controls have gotten to where you can program the service so that only a few important numbers will work. I feel like that’s a safe and reasonable option, rather than encouraging them to use a smartphone right off the bat or giving them the freedom to call and text whomever.
There are benefits that smartphones offer, such as educational apps and games that can really help kids learn and develop skills. In my house, though, that is remedied by the use of a tablet rather than a smartphone. This is largely in part due to the fact that neither of my kids are old enough to need any kind of phone, but even when they do get older I still think I will be starting them off with basic phones.
I personally know how smartphones (as wonderful as they may be sometimes) can negatively affect personal relationships. I also constantly see other people disconnect from each other in person because they’re too connected to their smartphone. My little brother, who recently got his first smartphone over the summer, no longer seems interested in anything but his phone. Sometimes it feels like it was surgically attached to his hand.
Relevant to that observation, when I took my oldest son to a trampoline park just last week, and while waiting in the line to get tickets I lost count of the kids who would pull out a smartphone, type something, and put it away just to pull it back out again moments later. It’s an addictive gadget, and perhaps I’m just an old curmudgeon-y lady now, but I feel that kids have better things to focus on than what’s going on in a smartphone. Especially kids who are in a freakin' trampoline park.
So I’ve decided to push it off until later rather than sooner. I’ll be accused of being the worst parent of the year (for several years), but they were going to find a reason to call me that eventually for one reason or another anyway – they always do - so it's whatever.
It’s a debate without a real answer, but it is interesting to hear how others feel about it. Should kids have their own smartphones, and if so, when is an appropriate age to give them one? We would love to hear your stance on the matter, so let us know your thoughts in the comments below!