Smartphones for kids: The dos and don’ts for parents

15 September 2023


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According to a 2021 study, an astounding 42% of children now have their very own smartphone by the tender age of 10. By the time they hit 12, that percentage skyrockets to 71% and by age 14, a whopping 91% of kids are armed with this ubiquitous piece of technology. With these figures in mind, one thing is for sure – smartphone use among children has exploded.

In today’s digital era, the question of whether to give your child a smartphone has transformed into a challenging puzzle for parents to solve. While there are valid concerns about the potential drawbacks, there are also compelling reasons why parents consider providing their kids with mobile devices.

Let’s delve deeper into the pros and cons of doing so and explore some dos and don’ts when introducing this technology to our children.

The need for smartphones for kids

From watching the educational video their science teacher recommended to getting in touch with you after their football training, the need for mobile phones among kids is constantly rising. According to child psychology experts and several studies on the topic, smartphones can offer a sense of security for both parents and children, while they can also serve as an excellent tool for learning, offering access to countless educational apps and resources. Yet, concerns about screen time, online safety and potential distractions from physical activities and face-to-face social interactions remain.

Below we weigh in on the pros.

The advantages:

  • Communication: First and foremost, smartphones provide a direct line of communication between you and your child. Whether they’re at school, a friend’s house or an after-school activity, it enables you to reach them instantly, providing peace of mind for you and cultivating a sense of independence in your child.
  • Learning at their fingertips: More than just communication tools, mobile devices are mini-computers with endless learning opportunities. With access to educational apps and websites, your child can explore a world of knowledge, from science experiments and math puzzles to language learning and coding games. Smartphones also foster learning on the go since kids can access educational content wherever they are.
  • Safety: GPS tracking and location-sharing features can help parents keep tabs on their child’s whereabouts and ensure their safety. More importantly, kids can use the phone’s location-sharing feature to get help quickly in case of an emergency.
  • Nurturing creativity and problem-solving skills: Apps that encourage drawing, music creation, storytelling and puzzle games help nurture these skills in a fun and engaging way. On the other hand, phone cameras allow children to explore photography and visual storytelling. Meanwhile, they can develop organizational and time management skills with calendar apps that help them schedule activities and set reminders, while to-do lists can teach them to prioritize tasks and complete them efficiently.
  • Responsibility and independence: Managing a smartphone can teach children valuable lessons in responsibility, time management and self-discipline. They learn to take care of their belongings and keep them secure, while understanding when and how to use the phone responsibly.

Young girl sitting on the sofa looking at a pink mobile

The disadvantages:

  • Excessive screen time: One of the most prominent concerns is excessive screen time, which can have adverse effects on a child’s physical and mental health. Prolonged screen time is linked to health issues like obesity, poor posture, eye strain and can contribute to increased stress, anxiety and depression.
  • Online risks: Kids may encounter inappropriate content, online predators or cyberbullying, all of which can lead to emotional distress. They may also become addicted to social media or online gaming.
  • Privacy concerns: They may not fully understand the implications of sharing personal information online, potentially exposing themselves to privacy risks. In contrast, inappropriate posts or photos shared online can have lasting consequences for a child’s digital reputation.
  • Distraction and dependency: Mobiles can be distracting, affecting a child’s focus on schoolwork and other important tasks like chores, which may lead to lower academic achievement and decreased productivity. Not to mention that constant mobile use may hinder the development of face-to-face communication skills. In fact, social isolation may make it challenging for kids to form real-world relationships and dependency may lead to problematic usage patterns, mood swings, irritability and a decreased sense of well-being.

At what age should you give your kids a smartphone?

A hotly debated topic among experts and parents alike, deciding on the ideal age to introduce your child to their first phone can vary depending on several factors, including their maturity level, individual circumstances and parental judgment. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but here are some general guidelines to consider:

Middle school age

Many experts suggest that a suitable starting point for introducing a mobile phone is around middle school, typically between the ages of 11 and 13. At this stage, children are becoming more independent and they may need a phone for communication and safety reasons as they head out for after-school activities.

Maturity and responsibility

Age should not be the sole determining factor. Consider your child’s maturity level and their ability to handle the responsibilities that come with owning a smartphone. Are they capable of understanding and following safety guidelines, managing screen time and respecting online etiquette?

Family and peer factors

It’s also important to take into account the family’s needs and dynamics. Sometimes, a child may need one earlier than others due to specific circumstances or responsibilities. Peer pressure can also be a consideration, as many children start using smartphones when their friends do.

Educational needs

If your child requires a phone for educational purposes, such as accessing online learning resources, you may need to provide one earlier than the typical age range.

Three boys looking at a mobile phone

The Dos for kids with smartphones

  • Do set ground rules: Before handing over the mobile, establish clear rules about its usage. This could include when and where they can use it, what apps they can download and how much screen time is allowed each day.
  • Do monitor their activity: Keep an eye on what your child does on their smartphone. To do so use parental control apps that can help you monitor their activity and set restrictions.
  • Do encourage open communication: Foster an environment where your child feels comfortable discussing their online experiences with you.
  • Do educate them about online safety: Explain the importance of not sharing personal information online and the potential dangers of interacting with strangers on the internet.
  • Do choose age-appropriate content: Install apps and content suitable for your child’s age and regularly review and update them.
  • Do enable location tracking: Activate location services to track your child’s whereabouts for safety reasons.
  • Do set up emergency contacts: Ensure your child knows how to call emergency contacts and provide them with essential contact information.

The Don’ts for kids with smartphones

  • Don’t ignore their privacy: While it’s important to monitor your child’s activity, respect their privacy. Explain why you’re monitoring their activity and stress the fact that it’s for their own safety.
  • Don’t forget to enable safety settings: Most phones have safety settings so make sure to enable these to protect your child from inappropriate content.
  • Don’t neglect offline activities: Encourage your child to balance their screen time with offline activities like reading, outdoor play and family time.
  • Don’t dismiss their concerns: If your child comes to you with a problem or concern related to their smartphone use, take it seriously. This will reassure them that they can always turn to you for help.
  • Don’t wait to discuss cyberbullying: Cyberbullying is a serious issue. Talk to your child about it and ensure they know what to do if they encounter it.

The ideal mobile plan for your kids

Like a superhero with the perfect sidekick, a smartphone is only as good as the mobile plan you’re subscribed to – together, they create an unstoppable team for staying connected. Designed specifically with your little ones at heart, our Junior Mobile Play Plan comes with a range of perks including 10GB data, unlimited minutes to GO fixed and mobile numbers, unlimited SMS and so much more, while you get to have complete control over the costs. More importantly, with the Junior Mobile Play Plan you can experience total peace of mind thanks to round-the-clock safety features with Secure Net. In this manner, you can rest assured that your child gets to explore the digital landscape safely. Find out more about our Junior Mobile Play Plan.

Providing your child with a smartphone can be a beneficial decision if approached with care and responsibility. By considering factors like age, maturity and responsibility levels, choosing the right device and plan and implementing safety measures, parents can strike a balance between giving their children the tools they need and ensuring their safety in the digital world.

If you’re worried about online security and your kids, take a look at these tips on how you can keep them safe online and here is a guide about avoiding phone and email scams. In need of a mobile plan? Discover how you can choose the right mobile plan.

The Common Sense Census 2021: Media Use by Teens and Tweens