The smartphone question is a tricky one to navigate in households nowadays. How young is too young for near-constant access to social media, email, texting and other forms of communication that happen away from parents’ watchful eyes?
In the early era of cellphones, parents restricted access to devices for their older children, teens old enough to have a job or drive on their own. But as smartphones became more advanced and more popular, parents have relented and bought their children devices at younger and younger ages.
Today, the average child is given their first cell phone at the age of 10 years old, according to a study by Influence Central, and some kids are getting access to the devices as young as 7 years old.
As parents who also grew up using cell phones get older, chances are they too will let their children use phones at relatively young ages, having grown accustomed to having the technology in their lives. And children learn from their parents, which means the more parents who are addicted to smartphones have children, the more children there will be learning how to use smartphones.
Phones affect brain development
For a long time, parents were deathly afraid that cell phones could give their kids brain cancer, blood cancer, skin cancer, all kinds of cancers. And while it turns out there’s relatively little evidence to support that fear, there is another potential consequence of cellphone use, particularly for young, developing brains: addiction.
Parents and teachers are reporting that children behave like addicts when it comes to cell phones, figuratively or literally unable to put them down for any extended period of time. The average teen checks their phone hourly for the latest digital marketing, and students struggle to put devices down in class and pay attention.
And evidence also suggests that smartphones negatively affect our memory capacity, leaving us a little slower and less able to retain basic information because we’ve become used to turning to our phones for everything. We still don’t know what kind of impact that can have long-term on a student’s memory when smartphones are incorporated into classrooms, but that hasn’t stopped school systems across the country from embracing smartphones as another teaching tool.
The right age isn’t a generic number
When it comes to actually declaring a “right time” to give your child a phone, the truth is there is no single right answer, according to Common Sense Media. The organization, which is dedicated to developing basic rules for kids and technology use, say that determining when it’s an acceptable time to give your child a smartphone depends on a number of individual factors related to your child’s maturity.
How responsible is your child with their things? Do they lose or break them frequently, or do they do a good job of keeping track of everything and keeping it safe? Have they used smart devices in the past, and have they shown sensible judgement when using them? You don’t want to buy a device if your child is still prone to dropping things frequently, pitching a fit or throwing things in anger.
You should also ask yourself whether your child is good at obeying your rules and respecting boundaries. After all, even the best parental devices can be overcome by a child with enough willpower, and it’s important that the rules are respected in order to keep your child’s smartphone use safe and secure.
Finally, consider whether your child is mature enough to handle social media. Even if that’s not what the device is for, your child will inevitably be participating in that online world, and you want to make sure they can keep themselves safe, both from other kids and from predators online. If you can answer yes to all questions, your child may be ready for a smart device. If not, it may be prudent to wait a while instead.