Learning my lines . . .
. . . discovering what it means to follow Jesus, seeing my story swept up into his . . .

At What Age Should A Child Get A Smartphone? . . . .

Is it my age? My experience? Is it good old common sense? Or, is it some combination of all three? I haven’t yet figured out where its coming from, but “it” is the way that I’m teetering very close to telling parents to buck the trend and love your kids by keeping the smartphone out of their hands for a good long time beyond the average age. . . 10.3 years-old. . . when a child now gets his or her first smartphone. Ten-years-old is way too young. Most people will think that my recommendation will be way too old and way too ridiculously unrealistic.

Step back and take a look at the current digital landscape. The smartphone has been on the scene now for just over 10 years. That said, we’ve got a generation of parents who are able to look in the rear-view mirror to assess just how well the whole kids-and-smartphones thing has gone in their family. My research isn’t at all scientific, but I’ve yet to meet a parent who looks away from the rear-view mirror to excitedly say, “I wish I had given him/her that smartphone earlier!” Rather, I’m hearing proclamations of lament and regret. Many of them begin with “If I had only. . . ”

Our CPYU Digital Kids Initiative was launched several years ago in response to the sheer volume of “When should I get my son/daughter their first cell phone?” questions I was fielding at our youth culture seminars. I had no idea how to answer. What I did know was that technology is a good gift from God that can be used in ways that either lead to our human flourishing, or to our demise. I also knew that children and teens would be growing up to inhabit a world full of technology. Consequently, a parenting task that could not be overlooked was training kids to use technology in responsible, God-honoring ways. That meant that just like in driver-training, kids would need to spend supervised and monitored time “behind the wheel.” Let them use the tools.

I still believe those things, but we are now learning enough from our looks in the rear-view mirror to warrant some adjusted thinking.

It was just about a year ago that I spoke with a mom who told me that her daughter’s phone had been confiscated by the police. The issue was that she had answered a sexting request from an unknown person. Her best friend had done the same and her phone had been confiscated as well. Some might say that two girls should have known better. The reality is that they were both from Christian homes, both attending a Christian school, and both. . . 10-years-old. Maybe they weren’t at a point developmentally where they had enough knowledge and experience to process a request for nude pictures from an unknown teenage or adult male. Maybe they didn’t know better. Why then, did they have phones?

And this is where parents come in. We need to function at the level of wisdom and common sense. As I heard a pastor friend once ask, “Why would a parent put a live hand grenade in the hands of their child?”

Overreaction? I don’t think so. We’re reaching a tipping point where we are going to have to honestly assess the balance between risk and reward. And if we are pushed over the edge by believing that the tension between us and our kids from pushing back on their demands is too great a risk, perhaps we need to think again. That’s what parenting is. It’s not about coddling kids and giving them everything they want. It’s about protecting them from harm (even themselves!), providing for their well-being, and teaching them to live to the Glory of God within the safety of ever-expanding borders and boundaries. . . regardless of their inevitable pushback and how it makes me feel.

So back to the question at hand. . . “At what age should a child get a smartphone?” There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. We need to take into consideration age, maturity-level, trustworthiness, etc. Overall, however. . . it’s happening way too early.

More later. . . .

To take a look at some suggested borders and boundaries, check out our Free Family Digital Covenant of Conduct.

2 Responses

  1. Jonathan McKee does a great job with this topic in his book “If I Had a Parenting Do-Over” Keeping rules very tight when they first get their smart phone and relaxing the rules as they approach high school graduation.

  2. After hearing a social medial speaker at our kids elementary school talk about the dangers of social media in the hands of kids that are not emotionally mature, I am a firm believer that most kids get a phone way too early!! He gave the example of an elementary school set of girls who had a crush on a guy who was ignoring them so they sent him pics of them topless which is immediately forwarded to a friend who opened it just as his dad who was a cop walked by and the end result was the boy who forwarded them having criminal charges laid against him on an his record permanently, as well as a boy in high school who had a full fare baseball scholarship to a school but after posting some derogatory comments about Obama and blacks, got his scholarship pulled due to the president of the university being black.

    Moral of the story – kids are NOT emotionally mature enough to know what they are doing on social medial whey they are young and the result is a cyber footprint they can never get rid of. He also spoke about how kids never unplug, how a “mistake” you make never goes away the way it used to before social media (eg. you get teased about a mistake for a few weeks, people forget about it and life moves on versus it continually being brought up over and over again as it never goes away), not to mention the amount of sexting that goes on and cyber bullying and the lack of parental supervision. Also how to turn of location signal on your phone because pics that are posted will not your location and predators can locate where you live in a very short time (he actually called a mom in the audience from his phone based on the location being on and tracking her down – the shocked look on her face said it all!!)

    I joined Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. to be up on the social media trends and had an agreement with my kids that if they join a social media platform I had to be a “friend” (promised not to post and embarrass them but was there simply as a subconscious reminder for them to be careful what they posted. Passwords were also given and noted down to be used as spot checks as required and screening software placed on my sons to stop (minimize any) exposure to porn.

    Both my kids did not get a phone until High School and they were very strict restrictions around its use the first few years they had them and relaxed things a bit more as they matured. Once out of high school they can set their own rules, with the hopes our instruction rubbed off. No data plans on the phones, just talk and text, phones had to be charging on the kitchen counter by 9:00 p.m.every day (aka no phones in rooms at night), no phones at meals or in car rides so we can use the time to communicate, half day or a full day off electronics once a week (again to teach them the value of face to face communication and get that interaction for esteem, fun, communication skills etc.). Was a lot of work and we were one of the few parents we knew of who were so strict but the rewards have been VERY much worth it! Also a good thing for you as a parent to have to live by the same rules and keep you accountable 😉

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