When is a Child Ready for a Phone?Is My Child Ready for a Phone?

January 14, 2019

By Dr. Joseph Kahn, MercyKids president

My oldest grandchild, a soon-to-be 11-year-old, asked for an iPhone for Christmas. (I was planning on a bike!)

I’m sure many tweens have asked for phones or likely will in the months or year ahead. On one hand, this seems like a frightening idea. On the other, you want your tween to gain independence and to be able to keep in touch and be reached.

Cost is a concern, of course, both for the phone itself and for a call, text or data plan. Also, does your child have the judgment and maturity to text only appropriate messages, to recognize and avoid dangers of cyberbullying and to use social media wisely? Moreover, will he lose the darn thing?

When weighing this decision, here are a couple of things to consider:

  • Maturity level. A socially and technologically mature 11- to 12-year-old may be more ready for a phone than an immature 15-year-old.
  • Responsibility. If your child fails to turn homework in on time, much less find his or her shoes, coat, etc., will he or she really keep track of the phone, or will it be left in the lunchroom or on the bus?
  • Monetary knowledge. Is your child aware of and responsible with money? The cost of buying hundreds of additional “lives” on a game can really add up.
  • Interface sagacity. Does your child recognize social cues when dealing with friends face to face? If so, this will likely be more of an issue with a phone.
  • Apprehension of limitations. Does your child understand and appreciate the capacity and limitations of technology? Does he or she know that nothing ever really goes away on the internet and that posts made in youth can haunt someone on both college and job applications?
  • Grades. Is your child doing well in school? Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly called ADHD, or learning difficulties may be even more challenged with the stimulation of a phone.

Some experts advise starting with a not-so-smart phone, like a flip phone that allows calls but no internet access. Whatever you decide is right for your child, plan ahead with rules and what happens when those rules are broken. Doing so will save many headaches down the line.