What age should you get your child a cell phone

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Thinking about getting your child their first phone? We’re here to help! Giving your child their own device is a major milestone—for you, and for them! And while it may be the first step towards independence and learning responsibility, it can also be tough to decide if your child is ready.

In this guide, we’ll help you answer some of the questions you may be wondering about as you determine what’s right for your child. Because keep in mind—it’s different for every family.

What’s the right age to get a child their first phone? 

Unfortunately, there’s no right answer—no perfect age for a kid to get their first phone. But there are factors to consider, like your child’s maturity level, your ability to limit screen time, as well as the risks and benefits of having a device at all. 

Should an eight-year-old have a smartphone? 

Most experts agree that eight-year-olds are not ready to have a phone. The risks of addiction, exposure to cyberbullying, adult content, scams, and online predators are just too high. Instead of a smartphone, you could consider an alternative for staying in touch, like a flip phone, a watch, or another device that enables phone calls and messaging but doesn’t have internet access. 

Should a 10-year-old have a smartphone? 

This one’s a little more tricky. First, you should carefully consider your child's specific needs, maturity, and level of responsibility. According to Boston Children’s Hospital’s Digital Wellness Lab research, the average age parents reported getting their child a phone was 10 years old, but that doesn’t go for all families. 

Owning a smartphone is a big responsibility for a 10-year-old. If you think it’s right for you, consider establishing clear rules, and closely monitoring how and when your child uses the phone.

If you spot any warning signs that the phone is causing problems for their health or well-being, you might want to consider taking another look at your  rules or taking away the device completely. 

Should a 12-year-old have a smartphone? 

As your child makes the leap from middle school to high school (scary, right?), a smartphone seems like an appropriate companion. Plus, you’d be in good company—according to Boston Children’s Hospital’s Digital Wellness Lab research, parents of younger children plan to buy their child a phone around the age of 12. 

Most 12-year-olds are mature enough to see eye to eye with their parents about simple agreements or written rules. They should be able to follow your guidelines and talk openly about any problems they have while exploring the online world. Just remember, every kid is different, and only you know if they’re truly ready for a device. If you do decide they’re ready, make sure they understand the risks involved with being on the internet and maintain regular communications around smartphone use. 

Should teenagers have smartphones?

As we’re sure you’re well aware, most teens have their own phones, and they typically stand to benefit more from access to the internet than younger children do. Smartphones can help teens stay connected with their parents and with schoolwork, education, or other online learning. 

On the flip side, they may be more likely to get addicted to online gaming or seek out risky corners of the internet, like adult content. As with younger kids, clear house rules and open communication are key to keeping your teens safe on smartphones. 

Young girl on phone watching video

10 questions to ask to decide if your child is ready.

Like we mentioned above, there’s no “perfect age” for giving your child their first phone. Even teens need clear limits to ensure that mobile devices don’t interfere with their developmental milestones, health, schoolwork, and social skills.

To decide whether or not your children are ready for their own phones, start by asking these 10 questions: 

  1. Do they take public transportation or frequently travel on their own? If your child takes the bus to school or rides their bike to see friends, you may need a way to stay in contact and keep tabs on their whereabouts.
  2. Are they at home alone often? If a child spends significant time alone at home, having a phone gives them a quick and easy way to contact you or other family members when they need something 
  3. Are they babysitting or taking on similar jobs? First, good for them! Taking on responsibilities like these indicates a level of maturity and trustworthiness (not to mention they can help pay the phone bill). Having a phone when they’re looking after someone else’s children could be practical for communication (and emergencies). 
  4. Are they starting to make plans with their friends on their own? Whether it’s a camping trip or a first date, you need to trust your kids to make smart decisions. Consider whether a phone will help keep them safe or give them access to you if they might need help at any point. 
  5. How do they handle setting limits on their current technology? How does your child manage their current device use? If they’ve shown the ability to create balance and boundaries, they might be ready for their own phone.
  6. Will they follow the rules you agree on together? Have they followed other ground rules you or other guardians have set on device usage in the home so far? Are you confident they’ll follow the rules you agree on for their own device? 
  7. Do you trust them to come to you with problems or concerns? Open communication about online experiences is crucial. You need to trust that your child will come to you with any experiences or encounters that might be seen as red flags while using a smartphone.
  8. How often does your child lose things—especially expensive items? It’s no surprise that not all kids have great organizational skills. You might not want to buy a phone for a child that tends to break or lose things. If they’re old enough to own a phone but careless with their possessions, a cheaper smartphone with a strong case could be a compromise.  
  9. How well does your child handle and understand money? Understanding the value of money is vital when it comes to owning a smartphone. In addition to looking after the phone itself, your child may be able to make in-app purchases.
  10. Are they able to handle conflict? From gaming chats to social media, the internet could expose children to conflicts and the need to resolve issues with people online. 

What are the risks of giving your child a smartphone? 

While the pros and cons of giving your child their own device differ for each family, here are nine of the major risks you should consider before getting your kid a phone. 

  • Mental health issues. Excessive cell phone use—especially smartphones with social media access—can lead to mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and addiction. The U.S. surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, warned of the dangers by saying, “Teens who use social media for more than three hours a day face double the risk of depression and anxiety symptoms."  
  • Distractions. Whether it’s schoolwork, family time, or exercise outdoors, phones can distract kids from activities that help create a healthy balance in their day-to-day lives. In fact, according to research from Common Sense Media, 97% of 11- to 17-year-olds use their phones during the school day. 
  • Cyberbullying. Almost half of U.S. teens aged 13 to 17 experienced some form of cyberbullying, according to Pew Research. Children with their own phones may be exposed to this more than those without, as it can be hard for parents and schools to know about the interactions kids experience on their devices. 
  • Online predators. Most parents are concerned their kids will end up in contact with online predators if they have access to the internet. These predators can manipulate young children into sending explicit content or meeting in person—putting kids in real danger. As with cyberbullying, a child having their own device makes monitoring interactions more difficult for parents, which is why keeping an open dialogue about what they see or experience online is so important. 
  • Adult or mature content. The scary truth is that 54% of children first encounter pornography before they turn 13 years old, according to a survey from Common Sense Media. Unfortunately, this means that more kids will access adult content long before their minds are mature enough to understand what they’re watching. 
  • Online scammers and hackers. If your kid shares too much information with a "new friend" online, they (or you!) could fall victim to child identity theft. For more information on this topic, check out our guide on child identity theft. 
  • Sexting and pressure to share photos or videos. Sending or receiving sexually explicit images, videos, or text messages can pose severe risks to young people. They can lead to confusion, anxiety, low self-esteem, or even situations of sextortion, in which a predator threatens to publicly release explicit images unless the victim gives in to demands. 
  • Interfering with sleep. Digital devices delay the production of melatonin, which can make falling (and staying) asleep more difficult. Without boundaries around device use and bedtimes, kids might use their phones when they should be sleeping, which can lead to being tired or moody at school. For more information on this topic, check out our guide to creating good sleep habits for the whole family here. 
  • Excessive phone use. A study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry found that excessive smartphone use is associated with a host of issues, including difficulties in emotional regulation, impulsivity, and impaired cognitive function, among other conditions. Using smartphones without limits could lead to physical and mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, shyness, low self-esteem, social anxiety, and poor eating habits. If your child is showing any of these symptoms, consider reaching out to your physician or a mental health expert. 

Common worries about a child receiving their first device

You’re worried that your children might share personal information with people on the internet whom they do not know
Teach your kids about the importance of privacy and what personal information (theirs and yours) should never be shared online, like addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, door codes, financial data, and certain photos (of themselves, their family, their home, etc.).
Without a clear understanding of expectations, asking kids to put down their devices can be challenging. You have to come off as the “bad guy,” which can be uncomfortable for you and for them
Set time limits in advance for your child’s online activity. Parental control apps can help! This takes out the emotional element, leading to smoother transitions. If your kids know they will have a predetermined amount of time to spend online, they can plan how they’ll use it beforehand —which allows them to maximize the experience and make the most of their time, for instance, instead of random scrolling.
You're worried that all your child does on her iPad is watch brain-melting unboxing videos. If she’s going to be on the device, you would rather her time be spent productively.
There’s a big difference between active and passive screen time (like drawing a picture vs. watching a video). Encourage imaginative play, and download learning or creative apps that complement your child’s unique interests—that’s a win-win!
The internet is seemingly boundless, and you’re worried that your kid will stumble upon something that’s way too inappropriate (either by accident or even sometimes on purpose).
Set restrictions on what they’re allowed to see. Parental controls let you easily filter content so that your child doesn’t see anything violent or graphic. Some search engines like KidRex and Kidtopia are designed to only show kid-friendly search results.

Having the digital talk: ready for your own phone?

So you’ve come to the conclusion that your child is indeed ready for their own phone (yay!), but you want to set some ground rules and guidelines to keep them safe and protect your peace of mind? You’ve come to the right place! 

You can download and print Aura’s Family Device Agreement to talk through and fill out with your child, selecting the options that are right for your family. Put it on your fridge, on your child’s bulletin board or anywhere else where you can refer back to it at any time.  

Here’s how to go about the process of establishing a Family Device Agreement.  

Step 1: Parents, get on the same page.

  • Establish guidelines. Create a game plan before talking to the rest of the family. For example, decide how much time, where, and when you want to allow screens and what the consequences will be if kids break a rule in the contract.
  • Respect privacy. As kids get older, it’s natural for them to want more privacy, and that’s okay! But that is something they gain with trust over time. In the real world, we establish rules like knocking before entering their rooms and giving them space to talk to their friends. The same goes for the virtual world, which has shifted how kids socialize. With a contract in place, parents can acknowledge what they will respect in terms of their kids’ privacy but that they have full rights to their devices if the contract is breached (which may include reading cringe-worthy messages to friends).
  • Model good behavior. Sometimes, the best way to get your kids to follow your rules around screen time is to follow the rules yourself (at least when they apply). For example, put away devices as a family around mealtimes and bedtime. Discuss with your partner what feels doable and appropriate and write it into the contract. Kids will likely respond more positively when they see some effort on your part to set boundaries around screen time as well.

Step 2: Introduce the device agreement to your family. 

  • Have a family meeting. Gather everyone to talk about why you’re establishing a device contract, lay out the plan you’ve created with your partner, and make it clear that a contract is part of the responsibility of owning a device—or is at least the first step to getting one. Be sure to also make space for listening to their requests or suggestions and modify the contract as needed. Open communication is key to a successful screen time talk, but sometimes, parents will have to stand firm on what they think is best.
  • Stick to the plan. Kids will always push boundaries, so consistency is key. Kids will likely try to get around whatever measures you put in place to monitor or limit screen time. Check in once in a while and ensure that everyone is doing their part. No cheating!
  • Commit to consequences. If there is an instance of evasion or breaking the rules, make sure to follow through on any consequences outlined in the contract. You’ll avoid repeat offenses and ensure the contract remains effective over the long term. Ultimately, a family media agreement will limit arguments over screen time and make for a more peaceful transition to bringing new devices into the home.

9 ways to keep your child safe with their first phone.

In today’s world, the question isn’t IF your child will have fun, but when.. No matter what age you give your children their first phones, there are steps you can take to ensure their safety and health.

Here are nine ways to ensure your kids stay safe while they use smartphones:

  • Install parental controls on your child’s phone. All devices from Apple and Android come equipped with some level of parental controls that let you determine what your child can and cannot do. Additional third-party apps help you block specific apps or websites, set time limits, and pause the internet during homework or bedtime. 
  • Limit what apps they can install and use. It’s important to limit the apps your child can install to ensure each one is safe and age-appropriate. Start slowly by keeping only the apps and features that your child needs.
  • Create a family contract for device usage. Set specific rules and guidelines for device usage—such as when and where they can use their phones. Include your child in the process, and even let them add their own rules (and agree to yours) before you get the phone.
  • Charge phones overnight in a common area. Consider setting a rule that everyone in the house must leave their phones in the kitchen or living room overnight. This is good practice for children and can help promote healthier sleeping habits.
  • Check in regularly, and watch for changes in your child's mood and behavior. It's impossible to track every click, swipe, and tap on your child's phone. However, if you feel the phone is impacting them mentally or emotionally, take immediate steps—as your child's health is always the top priority.
  • Educate them about using strong passwords. Teach your child how to create strong passwords and why it’s important to keep passwords (and other personal information) private. Additionally, explain why they shouldn’t share passwords in case their online accounts get hacked.
  • Explain what to do if they come across adult or disturbing content. While creating your family contract, chat about scenarios like encountering adult content. Prepare your kids for the risks—and set quick, practical steps so that they know how to close the app and report the issue to you. 
  • Teach them how to avoid scams and other online threats. Educate your child about identity theft. Children are the most vulnerable targets, so you should help your kids learn how to avoid online scams, such as phishing emails, phone scams, or fake websites.


You can also co-play with your kids by playing their favorite games with them. This can help you get an idea of what type of content they are seeing, what experiences they might be having, and a clear understanding of their digital lives. Plus, who doesn’t love extra family time?

Try co-viewing and co-playing. Watch content together to have shared context with your child and see how they are responding to certain content or issues. If you’re not able to co-view, try to have your kids use technology in a shared space so you can observe them and interact with them while they are using devices.

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