If it seems like all your friends have smartphones, you may be on to something. A new report by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that reports on technology and media for children, found that by the age of 11, more than half of kids in the U.S. have their own smartphone. By age 12, more than two-thirds do, and by 14, teens are just as likely as adults to own a smartphone. Some kids start much younger. Nearly 20% of 8-year-olds have their own smartphone!
So, what’s the right age for you? Well, I study the effects of media and technology on kids, and I’m here to say that there is no single right answer to this question. The best I can offer is this: When both you and your parents feel the time is right.
How to talk to your parents about a smartphone
Here are some points to consider to help you and your parents make this decision.
Responsibility: Have you shown that you are generally responsible? Do you keep track of important belongings? Do you understand the value of money, and can you save up to buy things you want? These are all good signs that you may be ready for a phone. If not, it might be wise to wait a bit longer.
Safety: Do you travel to or from school or after-school activities without an adult? This is when phones often go from a “want” to a “need.” Sometimes parents report that they feel better knowing they can reach their children directly, and that their kids can reach them, too.
Social maturity: Do you treat your friends with kindness and respect? Do you understand the permanence of the internet, the fact that once something goes out onto the web, it can never truly be deleted? It is critically important that you have a grasp on these issues before you own a smartphone.
We all get angry and say hurtful things we don’t mean sometimes, but when you post something on the internet that you might not mean later, or might wish you could take back, even on a so-called anonymous app, it can have real and lasting harmful effects. In the era of smartphones, there have been huge increases in cyberbullying.
Being smart about your smartphone
If you and your parents decide this is a good time to take that step, here are some tips to create a healthy relationship between you and your phone.
Parents should model good behavior! Your parents are the No. 1 most important influence in your life, and that goes for technology use as much as anything else. If parents are glued to their phones all day, guess what? Their children probably will be, too.
On the flip side, if parents model smartphone habits like putting the phone away during meals and not texting and driving, that will go a long way toward helping kids develop similar healthy behaviors.
You and your parents should talk together about the importance of setting rules and limits around your phone use and screen time. Understanding why rules are made and set in place can help kids stick to a system.