How to Know if Your Child is Ready for a Cell Phone

To know if your child is ready for a cell phone, you need to look at the maturity and responsibility he or she shows. Here are some tips to help you decide.
How to Know if Your Child is Ready for a Cell Phone

Last update: 21 July, 2022

Today, technology permeates our lives. Thanks to the Internet and technological devices, we can communicate, entertain ourselves, obtain information, study, and work. Children, digital natives, have grown up in this environment in which they flow and manage like fish in water. However, this doesn’t mean that they’re ready for the responsibilities and freedom that come with having a smartphone. Therefore, we want to offer you some guidelines to help you determine if your child is ready for a cell phone.

In reality, children have access to phones from the time they’re very young, as their parents often lend them their phones to entertain them on a multitude of occasions. As they get older, they often have laptops for school, iPads, or eBooks, so they already enjoy some of the benefits of technology. However, getting their own cell phone means seeing the world in their hands and this can be dangerous and counterproductive if they’re not sufficiently prepared.

Some parameters to take into account when defining if your child is ready for a cell phone

Here are some tips that can help you determine if your child’s ready for a cell phone.

The appropriate age

It’s not easy to determine an appropriate age for a child to have their own smartphone, as each child is different. It’s estimated that over 60% of children between the ages of 10 and 15 have a cell phone of their own; and this undoubtedly puts pressure on parents who are unsure whether the right time has come.

For them, it may be encouraging to know that major tech gurus have restricted their children’s use of the devices until later in life; in fact, Bill Gates didn’t allow his children to have a smartphone until the age of 14. Therefore, it would be wise to wait until at least 12 years of age, although the decision is up to each family.

A mother and baby looking at a smartphone.
Unfortunately, children are being exposed earlier and earlier to screens and cell phones. This produces a habit that can condition parents when determining the convenience of giving them their own cell phone.

Sufficient maturity

Beyond age, what’s really relevant is the psychological maturity of the child. The good use of the Internet, social media, and mobile applications will depend on it. To determine if your child is mature enough, look at how they assume and respond to the responsibilities they already have.

Do they complete their homework without you having to insist? Do they help out at home? Do they comply with the permissions and arrival times you set for them? Do they know how to tolerate frustration or do they throw a tantrum every time they receive a refusal? If they’re irresponsible and immature in these areas, offering them a cell phone may not be a good option.

Impulse control and mental health

Another important aspect to consider is your child’s ability to control their impulses. Some children are particularly distractible, impulsive, and inattentive (even without ADHD), and having a smartphone can only exacerbate the situation. They may neglect their studies or their social life because they’re constantly on the phone and may become dependent or trigger multiple conflicts at home when parents try to take the phone away for a few hours.

Similarly, anxious children and those with depressive tendencies or low self-esteem are a higher risk population when it comes to having a cell phone. Technology and social networks can trigger eating disorders, be a breeding ground for virtual bullying, or expose children to information that can affect their safety and mood.

So, before offering a phone to your child, be sure to address these issues, even with professional help if you consider it necessary.

Key things to consider when deciding if your child’s ready for a cell phone

If you’ve decided it’s time to take the plunge, here are some tips that can help you make the transition.

Discuss as a family and reach a consensus

The decision to give your child a cell phone can’t be taken lightly, so it’s important for parents and children to discuss the pros and cons and choose the right time together. You can ask your child to prepare an essay or PowerPoint presentation on their reasons for getting a phone, which will help them think about it while demonstrating maturity and commitment.

Start with more basic options

If you’re not yet comfortable with the idea of giving your child a smartphone, you can start with more basic options. For example, you can download some consensual apps on their iPad or give them a smart watch or a limited cell phone that doesn’t have a browser or internet access.

This way, you can communicate with them and know where they are (via the GPS function) but still control their access to networks. It’s also a good opportunity for the young person to show responsibility, maturity, and thus be able to go a step further in a few months.

Set limits and agreements

Giving your child a cell phone isn’t the end of the matter, but rather the beginning. From this point on, conflicts can arise because of excessive or inappropriate use of the cell phone or because they don’t listen to your directives. For this reason, it can be very positive to establish a written contract. This will set out certain limits (agreed between parents and children) that the child will have to comply with once they have their phone.

For example, you can specify the hours of daily use of the device and the need to keep the mobile away at bedtime or during family meals. You can also determine that parental control systems will be used (which the child shouldn’t try to bypass) or that parents can ask them to show them the contents of their phone at certain times.

A girl who's hands are bound by her cell phone charger.
Dependence and addiction to cell phones are part of everyday reality. Therefore, it’s key to establish rules for appropriate and healthy use in children.

Periodically reviewing the situation is the key to this decision

Whether you decide to start with a more basic option or you choose to give the phone to your child, it’s important to review the situation periodically. If your child shows responsibility and good use of the devices, they’ll be able to gain more privileges or relax the rules of the contract you wrote.

On the other hand, if they neglect their studies to be on their cell phone, become obsessed, or their mood is affected, don’t be afraid to back out. Perhaps you were too hasty and it wasn’t the right time yet: It’s okay to take the phone away and talk again later. Your child’s safety and mental health are always a priority.

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  • Clement, J., & Miles, M. (2018). Screen schooled: Two veteran teachers expose how technology overuse is making our kids dumber. Black Inc.
  • Instituto Nacional de Estadística (2021) Encuesta sobre Equipamiento y Uso de Tecnologías de Información y Comunicación en los Hogares. Recuperado de: http://aulaticpymes.es/?encuesta-sobre-equipamiento-y-uso-8150