When is the right time to get your child a smartphone?

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Technology has become a way of life, a necessity we simply can’t, or won’t, do without. As we prepare for smart cities of the future and allow our children access to technology for learning and communication purposes, the question most parents ask is “when is the right time to get your child a smartphone?”

“This is a difficult question because early childhood development differs from child to child, but what is important to note is that being digitally savvy at an early age will be advantageous in the long run,” says Michelle Beetar, Cell C Chief Customer Experience Officer.

“The smart-city future envisages that careers in the next era do not even exist at this point in time. What we do know is that technology is a key factor in jobs of the future, so allowing your child to gain digital skills will be crucial to her/him in the future,” Beetar continues.

However, owning a smartphone should come with certain limits and responsibilities to ensure that children are protected against predators and cyberbullying.

According to author Emma Sadleir in her book Selfies, Sexts and Smartphones, thousands of people (adults and children) fall into the trap of chatting and giving out too much personal information in the online space. It is therefore extremely important for children to understand why they should not be communicating with strangers and why they should be very careful with the information they share online. In Sadleir’s book, she lists strong privacy settings and turning off location services as crucial practices.

In the online article ‘When should you get your kid a phone?’ published on The Child Mind Institute (a non-profit organisation that helps children with learning disorders and mental health) says that by the time your child is 10 to 12, they will ask for a phone. Although this may be of concern to some parents, there are many advantages to this. Child experts say it’s not a question about the right age, but rather the rite of passage.

“I tell parents that it’s not so much about a particular age as it is about a kid’s social awareness and understanding of what the technology means,” says Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist at the institute.

“…it’s not so much about a particular age as it is about a kid’s social awareness and understanding of what the technology means.”

He recommends the following factors be considered when purchasing a smart phone for a child:

  • How often does your child lose things? If they misplace things constantly, it might be worth purchasing a cheaper smartphone.
  • How well does your child handle money?
  • Consider how easily your child picks up on social cues? If they are slow to catch on, this could be aggravated in texting or social media conversations.
  • How well will your child cope with limits to screen time?
young-preschooler-girl-happily-using-smartphone-device
Image: pan xiaozhen/Unsplash

Basic tips when purchasing a smartphone for a child

  1. Set guidelines: Before you give your child a phone, sit them down and explain what can and cannot be used on the device. It may be worthwhile to draw up a little contract between yourself, as the parent, and your child, as recommended by creative parenting expert, Nikki Bush. Such a document will set out the responsibilities for both parties to comply. 
  1. Education on data charges: Set monthly monetary limits. You may need to provide guidance on what data charges are, and how much it costs for games and apps. 
  1. Social media and strangers: If your child is under 13, they should not be on social media. With messaging apps like WhatsApp, they need to be advised on the dangers of communicating with strangers and about sending pictures of themselves to other people, even if they are known to the family – there is an over-16 age restriction on WhatsApp and an over-13 age restriction on all other social media platforms. 
  1. Inappropriate communication: Parents should assist their children by providing guidance on what is appropriate content to send and what is not.  
  1. Set limits on screen time: The recommended screen time for children is two hours per day. Before buying the device, make sure your child has agreed to follow your screen time limits. 

Also read:

Why screen time for babies, children & adolescents need to be limited
5 non-screen activities for your kids