At Kidscape, we often get asked the question ‘at what age should I give my child a phone?’. In this blog, I’ll use the term smartphone, because most phones on the market are super-whizzy and allow more functionality than just making and receiving calls.
The UK average age for a child to get their first smartphone is around 10 years old, as they start to make that transition to secondary school and are maybe travelling further away from home.
It’s important to consider, like most things, that there are many benefits and many risks associated with children having their own smartphone. I’d also invite you to base your decision on your child.
Things to consider
Phones are super convenient
It makes getting in contact and communicating with your child a lot easier. They can also reach out for help if/when they need to. For example, if your child feels uncomfortable in a situation or they feel a friend is in danger.
Your child’s smartphone will provide them with a new independence, more responsibility, and, your child’s favourite…social freedom. From planning out of school activities with mates to searching for the next Netflix drama to watch as a group (yes, it’s a thing; you can read more here), and from sourcing the best karaoke apps that allow co-op mode, to arranging another sleepover party, their smartphone is likely to be a key component of your child’s every growing social life.
It makes maintaining social connections with friends and family a lot easier, not just messaging but video calls, and playing games.
A smartphone can be a valuable tool to support your child discover a new passion. Discover music tastes and preferred film genres.
A safe space to talk
Sometimes it can be easier for children talk about concerns via a text conversation or a voice note. Remember, face-to-face isn’t easy! A smartphone may help your children by providing a safe place for them to express themselves.
Most schools now use online portals to upload homework and share other school notifications, so it can support with staying up-to-date. This in turn supports your child to manage routine and make sure homework is completed on time.
Smartphones can be expensive!
The latest smartphones are jampacked with tech, and that comes at a price.
Smartphones can be distracting
In truth, if we’re open and honest, many of us are trying to reduce our own screentime, to be more present in moment, so be mindful that smartphones can be highly distracting for young people. Applying appropriate screentime and boundaries on devices is a great way to help enable and encourage smartphone usage. You can click on the link below to help you set up screen-time of your child’s device.
Exposure to inappropriate content
With access to the internet, young people may come across content that isn't suitable for them. We’ve got lots of helpful advice for you and your child here.
Kidscape's Top Tips!
Set clear expectations
Introducing a new smartphone is a big moment! We would recommend sitting down as a family to establish a clear set of rules, daily screen-time limits, 'no-phone zones' at breakfast or dinner times, visiting family and you should also agree the consequences of not sticking to the agreed family rules.
If your child appears distracted or anxious when using their smartphone this may suggest they are finding it challenging to manage the new social connections with friends or may have seen something that has made them feel uncomfortable.
Make sure your child knows that they can talk to you about anything that’s bothering them and they can talk to you if they see or experience something that worries them or doesn’t feel quite right. Let them know you’re on their team.
Privacy settings and Parent Controls
Parental controls are helpful to protect children from downloading, viewing, and playing content not suitable for their age. This guide from the UK Safer Internet Centre gives you information about setting up parental controls. Be mindful that parental controls are not the entire solution to making your child’s smartphone safe.
Sleep, sleep, sleep!
Quality sleep is so important for all young people, especially for growth and development. The hour before bed, screens should be put away. You may agree that phones have a designated area of the house and be put on charge until the morning.
Our friends at The Sleep Charity have lots of useful information to support young people with getting a good night’s sleep.
By Ashley Rolfe, Head of Programmes, Training and Volunteering