Is your child ready for a mobile phone? 3 considerations before you get one

two boys on their mobile phones

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Has your child been bugging you for a phone lately?

Everyone has a smartphone nowadays. It’s a handy and efficient tool for connecting with others and getting information. It can also help ensure your kid’s safety especially when they start going to school. But just like any other tool, it can cause harm when used the wrong way. For example, kids can get addicted to these devices. Overuse could lead to health or psychological issues such as depression and obesity (How smartphones are making kids unhappy). It can also open them up to inappropriate content, cyberbullying, or online scams.

Getting a phone for your child is not an easy decision. Here are a few things to consider before giving them one:

Does your child

  1. Have a strong sense of responsibility?

    Don’t buy your child a phone just because they turned 12. It’s not about age. It’s about maturity and how they handle responsibility. Does your child often lose toys and other things? Do they ask you where to find their belongings? Do they have to be told to do their homework, chores, or routine things like brushing teeth or bed time? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, then your child might not be ready for a smartphone.

    Having a phone is a responsibility. They need to know the limits of its use. It’s also a costly gadget. They should know how to take care of it and the protect the data in it.

  2. Have good tech sense?

    Aside from knowing how to use the phone, being tech-literate also means being aware of online dangers. So many kids (and adults) fall victim to scams or cyberbullies. They should also be aware of the harmful effects of overuse, sharing personal information, and posting inappropriate content. They should understand that whatever they share via text or online can affect their future.

  3. Have a good grasp of social cues?

    Is your child well-adjusted socially? If not, a smart phone can be a gateway to developing anti-social behaviours. It may cause them to retreat into their own virtual world. They need to be mature enough to understand that not everything they read online is true. They should also be able to recognize false information and propaganda.

If you decide to get your child a phone:

  1. Supervise use

    Set reasonable limits on phone usage. For example, make it a rule that they can use it only after finishing homework and chores. No phones during class, dinner time, church, and important gatherings. Consider having a test period of three months. If your child breaks any of the rules, they should be aware that the phone will be taken away for a while.

  2. Consider getting a phone without a data plan

    A phone that is not internet-enabled may be better for younger kids. They will still be able to call and text but not go online.

    Scout around for the best mobile plan. There will be plans with “free” phones but monthly payments can be costly. If you already have a phone on a plan, check with your provider if they can provide a free phone or a discounted unit. Family plans usually have discounts for additional lines. Ask about promotions or special deals with your provider and compare it with other plans on the market. Check online or go to electronics stores.

  3. Know their password

    Tell your child that you will be checking their phone use. Knowing that their parents will see their activities can prevent them from doing anything risky online. Check your child’s texts, posts, and stored photos from time to time. Explain that you respect their privacy but keeping them safe is more important. You can gradually allow them to self-regulate especially when you see that they are responsible with their smartphone use.

Sources: When should you get your kid a phone? Danielle Cohen,; Is your teen or tween ready for their first cell phone? Tips for parents and kids, Nadine, Save Money in Winnipeg; An age-by-age guide to kids and smartphones, Stacey Stein, Today’s Parent; How smartphones are making kids unhappy, Audie Cornish, NPR. All retrieved April 26, 2018.
Article updated May 7, 2024.

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Community Resources

Media Smarts has many resources to help keep yourself updated about trends and issues in the digital world. Parenting the Digital Generation is an online tutorial that offers tips and strategies for everything from Facebook privacy settings, online shopping, cyberbullying, to protecting your computer from viruses. It also has helpful tutorials and workshops on ethics, media literacy and handling social media for you and your kids.

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