We cannot rely on previous generations’ experience and wisdom to figure out the right or best age to offer children smartphones. This topic is routinely brought up in my home and the homes of the families I work with. My opinion is not very popular. It’s not a judgment—it’s just what I see as best for children and their families: Eighth grade or even freshman year in high school is the best time to offer a child a smartphone.
What?! you may be thinking. That’s totally ridiculous!
Is it, though?
Even though a smartphone can have wonderful learning potential and can serve as an organizational tool, the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. Let me just start to count the ways…
1) One of the biggest sources of family conflict is children’s media consumption and use of screens. Once kids have these devices in their hands, they cannot resist engaging in addictive video games, watching videos, posting on social media, or participating in the latest string of texts. This drives parents crazy, and they then try to curtail their child’s use. But it is a lot of work and many times it’s a losing battle because parents don't follow through, or they model poor screen use self-regulation. Withholding a smartphone until children are around 14 years old can increase the peace in your home.
2) Beware, there are dangers out there on the World Wide Web! Using the phone to communicate can lead to cyberbullying, and children often stumble upon sexual and violent content that can be damaging to the psyche. Yes, they can find this content on their computer or iPad, but with a smartphone, they literally have access to it all at their fingertips 24/7. In 2016, Pornhub reported that 61% of porn is viewed on smartphones and 11% via tablet. This is backed by Covenant Eyes, who reported that 1 in 5 mobile searches is for pornography. This is not the sex education most parents want for their children.
3) Owning a smartphone can affect student academics. There are only so many hours in the day, and once a child gets access to a smartphone, this digital distraction can affect their studying and assignments at both home and school, which will ultimately lead to lower grades and test scores.
4) The development of social skills is hindered. Kids are no longer socializing and connecting face to face. This is one of the most important skills any human being can have. Their future life and work satisfaction will be based on their ability to communicate. You just cannot learn how to interact with humans and manage conflict appropriately if you are behind a screen. Our language relies on verbal and facial cues to really allow for connection. Social skills are not something that can be learned through typing or texting.
You can do this! If you take the Wait Until 8th pledge with 10 other parents, you can take the pressure off yourself and your kids to have a smartphone. It’s about power in numbers and keeping kids safe.
If you are worried about being able to locate your child or communicate with them in an emergency, give them a tracker such as a Gizmo watch my 11-year-old son has one) or a Lynq, or take it to the next level and give them a basic phone (my 13-year-old daughter has one- she named it Barbara). By taking these simple steps, you not only protect your child, you end the “but everyone else has one” response when you hold your ground. Now that’s what I call serious parenting!