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When Is the Right Time for Parents to Buy Their Children A Smartphone?

My daughter Annabelle is at the age (11-years-old) where she needs to have everything that her friends have, including a smartphone, or her social status will suffer and the world will come to an apocalyptic end.

Her dad and I keep telling her that if she learns more responsibility – e.g. picking up her room without me screaming at her – then maybe we’ll think about getting her a phone.

But, when is the right time to get a child a smartphone?

A new tracking app, TeenSafe, provides parents guidelines when deciding if a smartphone is healthy for the development of their child. According to the announcement, parents are suggested to stick with the “one-in-four rule by allowing [their children] one or more hours of access to media every four years”:

  • 2 – 5 years old: 1 hour.
  • 6 – 9 years old: 2 hours.
  • 10 years old: 3 hours.

The release also states that every child is unique, so parents should ask themselves the following questions to determine if their child needs a smartphone:

  1. Have you set limits for digital device use and does your child understand and respect those limits?
  2. Does your child need a phone to stay in contact with you in case of an emergency?
  3. Can they be trusted not to use the phone during inappropriate times, like class?
  4. Have you laid the foundation for responsible smartphone behavior and talk with them about sexting?

The guidelines that TeenSafe has established for children and smartphones are great, but I’m still hesitant to give Annabelle a phone. She has an iPad, which is great for supporting her creativity in clothing design; and she also uses it for homework to look up words and email her teacher assignments. It’s also great for motivating her to do chores around the house. Her dad has changed the settings to restrict certain sites and videos, and she is limited to how much she can use it during her leisure time.

A smartphone, however, is still up in the air. She claims she needs one because she is in dance and participates in sleepovers. I tell her that she can get access to a phone at both places if she asks an adult, which she responds with an eye-roll and some mumbling.

Call me old fashioned, but when I was eleven, the highlights of my days included mud pies, water balloon fights, and climbing trees – not sharing and exchanging selfies, surveys of who was hot or not, and cat and dog videos (although some of them are hilarious).

My concerns about my daughter having a smartphone are based on the cyberbullying we hear about in the news. Kids have more access to one another, making it easier to spread rumors. As much as parents want to claim to have control over their child’s life, they still find ways to avoid following rules (I was a kid once, I know). I’m very familiar with the benefits of technology, but we have the tendency to rely on it too much, especially when it comes to our kids. I agree with TeenSafe when they say that each child is unique, and parents should consider the questions and guidelines that TeenSafe has provided. They should also consider the reasons why their children are asking for a phone: Do they really need it, or are they just trying to fit in?

My fiancé made a compromise with Annabelle: If she can write a one-page essay on why she needs a smartphone now, and also demonstrate that she can do certain chores on her own, then she can get a phone. It’s ironic how we haven’t heard her talk about a phone in the last couple of months. I guess she wasn’t ready after all.

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