Kids Instruction Manual: Getting that First Mobile Phone

There is no question you will be pressured to buy your 11 year-old a mobile phone. Whether he spends any time on his own or not, safety will be one argument and social pressure will be another, perhaps unspoken one.

The truth is that there are valuable “teachable moments” here that cannot be missed, such as:

–        How to use it appropriately, including etiquette on taking pictures, sharing, and screen time

–        The implications of privacy, including location based apps and others

–        Taking care of it responsibility and consequences

Still, many parents get frustrated at the idea that the time has come for their kids to own a cellphone. “I did not need one growing up and I did just fine” is one argument. To this I ask: But did you not have access to pay phones and collect calls when you needed to use them?”

I mean who can find a pay phone these days?

So as instruction manuals go, there are questions you should ask yourself and none are more important than when is the right time for parents to get a child their own mobile phone? Most can agree that there is no single answer that is right for every parent and every child.

Lookout, makers of an app to help people keep their phones safe, recently worked with Harris Interactive to poll parents on what age they thought was the most appropriate age for a child to receive their first phone. U.S. parents expressed a wide range of opinions on the subject. (Full disclosure: Lookout has been a client of The Online Mom). The findings are striking: Twenty-two percent of parents said they think age 10 is the right age (wow!!), and 43 percent of total answers fell within the age range 10 to 12.

To get more context around the age opinions, the company polled their 265,000 Facebook fans on how they determine a child’s cellphone readiness, and safety was top of mind: 65 percent of respondents said that the child’s knowledge of how to use the phone safely and responsibly was the deciding factor.  There were a number of other factors cited by those surveyed as weighing on whether a kid is old enough for a smartphone of their own:

  • 13 percent said when they can afford it themselves.
  • 4 percent said junior high was the right time, while 6 percent said high school.
  • 4 percent gave smartphones as a reward for their child’s accomplishments.
  • 3 percent were stressed out about the topic, and weren’t sure yet.
  • 2 percent said once they can walk away from me, they can get a smartphone.
  • 2 percent said no to smartphones until the kid moves out.


However ultimately, whether a kid, tween or teen is ready for a phone of their own is a matter of that individual child’s maturity level, and that’s something only that child’s parents are in a position to determine.

While parents might feel a sense of security knowing they can contact their kids wherever they are, having a mobile phone might also give a child access to inappropriate or undesirable apps, the web and the less-than-wholesome intentions of other people, from bullying to worse. As a kid’s age increases, so does the gravity of certain phone safety pitfalls, like sexting and texting/talking while driving.

So ask yourself these questions to make your own assessment if you can answer ‘yes’ to all four, the time might be right for your child to own her own phone:

  1. Does your child need the phone to stay connected with you or for emergency situations?
  2. Does your child understand and respect the time and usage limits you have placed on other things like television and video game playing?
  3. Does your child understand what types of apps are okay to download and how to surf the Internet safely?
  4. Does your child know how to use the phone safely and appropriately? (Do they know whom and whom not to communicate with? What they should and shouldn’t share online? What sorts of words and pictures NOT to send?)


And if you want the step by step guide – click here to download PDF: Generation Smartphone: A Guide for Parents of Tweens + Teens

How would you – or how did you – determine if your child is ready for a smartphone?

Monica Vila – Co-founder of TheOnlineMom


Disclosure: I helped co-author the Generation Smartphone Guide for Lookout and was compensated for that effort. I strongly believe we need to put safety first when making this decision for our kids. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Other posts you might like: 5 Proven Steps to Protect Your Child from Bullies

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Article Posted 3 years Ago
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