What’s the Right Age to Give Your Child a Phone?

“Can I pleeease have my own phone?”

The “first phone” is one of the most loaded questions a child can ask and it can start as early as elementary school. And, with kids homebound most of the time, boredom could be fueling that dreaded request even more.

That’s because phones have become an ever-present accessory for kids. According to a 2018 Pew Institute study, 95 percent of teens have a smartphone or access to one, and 45 percent say they are online on a near-constant basis.

Even so, before you make the leap or give in to the pressure, there’s a lot to consider.

Access Granted

Let’s be real. When you decide to give your child his or her first phone, it’s never about the hardware. It’s about the access a phone provides a child. A phone connects kids to a whole new universe of fun, learning, and limitless media-creation tools. But that world is also brimming with risk.

No doubt, a phone is convenient and can also be a safety tool for a family. It allows you to call or text your child at any time of the day, which is a lifesaver for working and divorced parents, or caregivers.

However, when you hand your child his first phone, you are also giving him a digital portal leading directly to potential cyberbullying, inappropriate content, encounters with strangers, and a sea of contrary ideas and values.

Ultimately, the best answer to the “first phone” question — while the object of endless opinion — is a personal choice that reflects the unique dynamic of each family.

It’s rarely an easy choice. Here are a few things to consider that may help you make the best decision for your family.

10 Questions to Consider

  1. Does your child need a phone, or does he want a phone? As a parent, ask yourself the same question. Do you need your child to own a phone, or do you want it to make life easier?
  2. Does your child’s life/family circumstances (i.e., two households, riding public transit, geographic location, or health condition) require him to have a phone?
  3. Each child matures differently from his peers and even his siblings. One way to evaluate maturity is to ask: Is my child responsible? Does he generally follow the rules at school and at home? Does he take care of his possessions, or is he frequently losing or breaking them?
  4. Listening and communicating are foundational to responsibility. Does your child listen? Does he communicate with you and others well?
  5. Does your child understand and demonstrate how to treat others respectfully?
  6. Phones range in cost and functionality. Consider: Can our family afford a phone? What’s the best type of phone for my child’s maturity level (primary, flip, smart).
  7. As a parent, do you have the time to consistently teach your child how to use a cell phone properly?
  8. As a parent, are you able to monitor your child’s phone activity either with parental controls, physical checks, or both?
  9. As a parent, do you understand how to keep your child’s privacy and mental health safeguarded online?
  10. As a parent, are you willing to create, communicate, and follow through with family safety rules?

The impact a new piece of technology can on the family dynamic is also something you may want to explore. Digital access too soon can fast-track a child’s independence and compromise the natural parent-child bonding process. You may want to ask a few other parents how their relationship changed once they gave their child a phone and if they’d do anything differently.

iPhone Parental Controls

If you determine the time is right to give your child his first phone, we recommend parental controls be the first order of business after unboxing the device. The iOs parental controls can be found in Settings under the Screen Time tab. Within Screen Time, parents can set limits on device time, apps, contacts, and block content.

Android Parental Controls 

Enabling Android parental controls is similar to iOS. Tap the Play Store icon on the phone home screen then tap the Menu (three lines, top left). Once in the menu, go to Navigation, then the Settings tab. Scroll down to find Parental Controls and slide it to “on.” Behind this tab, much like iPhone parental controls, you can set screen, communication, and content restrictions.

Getting the settings combinations on your child’s phone will take time and will likely be an ongoing task (kids can easily change them back). Often, it will be trial and error as you discover what kind of content is getting through the phone’s basic filtering settings. This is why it’s also a good idea to add comprehensive monitoring software for an extra layer of protection on family devices. Also helpful is using software that blocks virus and malware scams that can target kids.

The McAfee team continues to produce content specific to the challenges of Working #FromHome and Schooling #FromHome. Our goal is to help you create the most secure, productive, and fun environment as possible for your family during these unique times. Look for those articles here on the McAfee blog.

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