What age should my child get a phone?
One of the most common questions I am asked as a counselor, is what age should my kid get a phone?
Here is my inside perspective from years of clinical mental health counseling and currently being in the season of parenting pre-teens.
This is a war like no other. The concept of handing our young children some type of screen is nothing new. In June 2007, Apple released the very first iphone to the public. In 12 years a lot has happened. More than the average consumer is even aware.
“Mom I am the only one in my class without a phone!”
Maybe you have heard these words or something similar! If you haven’t…hang tight…it’s coming! So, your child isn’t necessarily fibbing. There is total truth to that statement. In a 2018 research study conducted by Pew Research Center, it was reported that 95% of teens (ages 13-17) reported to having a smartphone or having access to one and 45% of these teens reported that they stay online on a near-constant basis. And you think they are just watching youtube? Scrolling through Instagram? Chatting with friends?
There is no consistent consensus either from teens when asked the effect social media has on them. Which to put that in simple terms – they are confused! They don’t know if it has a positive effect on them, negative, or both. When asked about 45% of teens surveyed stated it has been neither positive nor negative. Just great…our next generation is basically living with a phone in their hands, can’t imagine life without it, very uneducated about the dangers of it, but when asked they state it doesn’t affect their life (this is where I could insert so many emojis to explain my emotions at this point).
Maybe you have read articles about the dangers of excessive screen time, giving a child a smart phone at too young of an age, how to properly monitor your children’s devices, the effects it’s having on mental health, but that isn’t enough.
This war will not be won in your home with just setting up safeguards on your minor child’s smart phone and reading a few articles that come across your facebook newsfeed.
Violent video games, cyberbullying, sexting, online pornography, human sex trafficking…..How does a parent even begin to win the war on this? Is the answer no internet, no smart phone, let’s take it back to the old school days. One can only wish!
Here is where you need to start:
How to identify the missing links in your home?
Would you ever hand your 2-year-old child a loaded weapon and expect them to know how to handle it properly? Absolutely not.
If you are from my neck of the woods (the deep south) hunting is a way of life around here. My son has loved hunting since he was a young boy, but had to learn the great responsibility and possible dangers of hunting. It happened over years, not after his very first hunt.
It should be the same way with smartphones.
I once heard another counselor answer the question of when to hand your child a phone and he said, “When you are totally comfortable with talking to your child about porn, masturbation, and the sexualized world they will soon be fully introduced too!” The audience in which he was speaking to was totally taken back, but he couldn’t have been more direct and truthful! If you are uncomfortable talking about such with your child – they absolutely don’t need a phone! Why? Because that smartphone will teach them what you are not comfortable to talk to them about. And let’s add this – that “smartphone” will not teach them in a manner in which is pleasing to God, respectful to themselves, and respectful to others. The smartphone will introduce them to the evils of this world without them evening knowing it’s evil.
It’s better to have hard conversations on the proactive side than to have hard conversations on the reactive side (after something major has happened).
First missing link: Spiritual Neglect
Maybe you grew up in a home in which you didn’t receive modeling or instruction from a spiritual standpoint. Perhaps you simply weren’t taught the importance of values like honesty, integrity, generosity or service. Or maybe the opposite happened. Maybe you grew up in a religious home in which every time the church doors open you were there. You had plenty of religious experiences, but you were not taught about a genuine relationship with God. If you were simply taught to just obey and follow religious rules, then you were not spiritually guided. If either of these scenarios occurred in your life – what are you doing to ensure this is not happening in your child’s life? Are you guiding your child spiritually?
When a child is able to develop a belief system and can discuss his/her thoughts and feelings with his/her parents in an open and honest way something pretty magically happens. That is ACTION. I want to train my child for ACTION because one day he will be a teenager and we need more teenagers activating change in their lives, others, and the nations.
Second missing link: Sexual Neglect
Sexual neglect may seem odd considering how sexually saturated our culture is. Aren’t kids learning about sex at a younger and younger age? Yes they are, but sadly not from parents. Many parents are so uncomfortable talking about sex, even about the most basic biology concepts related to puberty and body changes. Parents are uncomfortable because no one talked to them about it, so therefore they don’t know how to talk to their own children about it.
Well that’s not an excuse any more! Don’t repeat past generational problems. It must stop with you!
Silence about sex is not healthy.
Perphaps you grew up in a generation in which your parents believed that providing knowlege about sex some how would give the teen permission to be sexual. Well today’s research shows the exact opposite. Those who are best informed are best able to make responsible decisions. They have less need to experiment. They have a safe place to talk about sexual temptations, which helps to lessen its power.
If you have handed your child a smart phone and never talked to them about porn, masturbation, menstrual cycle, appropriate touch, safe touching, unsupervised play, and how to handle sleepovers – you are sexually neglecting your child. As a parent it is your responsibility to guide these conversations in a manner that lines up with your belief system and have a policy in your home that no topic is off limits. Kids need a safe place to ask all questions, so why not make it your home?
The deprivations caused by emotional, physical, sexual and/or spiritual neglect is related to an important psychological phenomenon called attachment. Deprivations in one of those areas can cause a child or teen to attach to something and that something may not be healthy. Violent video games, excessive use of iphones, chatting online with strangers, sexting, inappropriate online relationships are all examples of attachments gone wrong.
So to summarize:
- Don’t neglect your child’s spiritual needs.
- Don’t just assume they will find out about sex. Don’t just have one conversation. Educate them. Answer questions. Have hard conversations often. The more you do it the easier it becomes. Ideally these conversations should start at a very young age and build upon each other. During toilet training years it’s perfect to talk about safe touch and unsafe touch. During pre-teens years start talking about changes in body and puberty. By 9-10 years old the discussions of sex should begin (depending on the child’s muturity level). Continue to expand on that information in stages as they enter into the teen years.
- Don’t cave into culture and the current trends. If everyone at your child’s school seems to be getting a phone in 4th or 5th grade doesn’t mean you need to adjust your parenting decisions! Stay the course. Introduce screen time / social media in stages. That just good parenting, so pat yourself on the back!
- Have a plan way before the pre-teen years sneak up on you. From very early on me and my husband talked this out and got on the same page. We communicated it to our children starting when they were young. Whatever you say you will do – you must really follow through with it! A plan isn’t effective if you are constantly changing it. So, if you plan on regularly checking the phone, using software to monitor the phone, or limiting screen time – you really got to follow through with that from the very start.
- Be prepared for a replacement activity! So, if you are sticking to no screen time or very very limited screen time you need to be prepared to give your child replacement activities. I tell my children that I will never tell them they can’t have something, but not give them another option or replacement activity. Maybe this is why my children play so many sports, love to play board games, love travel and adventure, love arts and crafts, and loving playing outside (they are currently 9 & 12 years old).
- If you can confidently answer 1-5 and feel you have a good handle on the above, my suggestion is to start with an ipad or something similar in the ages of 10-12. If all rules are followed and they can display safety and responsibility then a cell phone should be considered being given between the ages of 12-14. And for parents wondering what my recommendation would be prior to the ages of 10-12 – well that is – don’t do it! Hold off as long as you can. You will be thankful for this in the end.
If you are reading this article you are a concerned parent or grandparent, so keep up the good work! Keep educating yourself and know this war isn’t easily one, but it’s a war we just can’t surrender to. One involved parent at a time focusing on important conversations. Guiding your children spiritually, emotionally, and educating them on proper sexual health is key.
If you are a parent or someone who has an influence into children and teenagers worlds please consider signing up for emails related to this topic and I will send you a complimentary guide on how to navigate through these tough conversations, along with book recommendations for you and your child at each stage of development. We can do this together and I am here to support you guys along the way!