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At What Age Should a Kid Get a Phone?

Maybe you got a cell phone when you started work, or were in high school. It was probably an indestructible Nokia brick. It came with all kinds of social perks. And maybe you got really good at playing Snake. Now your kids want phones of their own. But here’s the thing: their experience won’t be like yours. Not by a long shot.

Things have changed. We dislike that statement, which seems both obvious and overused, but when it comes to kids and phones—well, things have changed. In a big way. Giving your kid a phone isn’t just giving them a tool to call you, it’s giving them a 24/7 internet connection with all the trouble and distraction that entails. So you need to ask some big questions.

How Will You React When Your Kid Breaks or Loses Their Phone?

Kids and teens lose and break things all the time. Even if they’re uncommonly responsible. It’s just part of the immaturity of childhood. So ask yourself: how will you react when your kid comes home without their phone, which retails between $300 and $1,000? The more that idea frustrates you, the longer your kid should wait before getting a phone of their own.

Note: if you’re thinking that a hand me down phone is the way to go here, take a look at our guide to wiping and kid-proofing your old phone.

What Is School Policy?

Teachers in 1998 had to ask kids to stop passing notes and pay attention. Teachers in 2018 have to ask kids to stop watching YouTube and pay attention.

Your kids school has a phone policy. We guarantee it. Find out what it is, what expectations for your kid are, and act accordingly. After all, if there’s a strict no phone policy, this discussion just got easy for you.

Other Kids Matter to a Point

If no other kids have a phone, your kid probably doesn’t need one for social reasons. Who will they call anyway?

If every other kid has a phone, it’s probably time to start considering if your kid should have one too. And if you think the time is right, it pays to come up with a social media policy for your family too.

How Much Safety Do You Need?

If you’re like most parents, safety is your biggest priority. After all, if your kid has a phone, you can contact them whenever, right?

That’s true, but it becomes important to balance the safety aspect of a phone with the entertainment and social aspects. You need to know that kids are pretty good at hiding apps they don’t want their parents seeing with apps that look more innocuous.

You may also decide that your kid is old enough for a phone but not old enough to be trusted with an entire digital world and the dangers that entails. If so, know that you can use a number of apps to monitor your kids phone.

Also, keep in mind that you can put emergency information on a phone’s lock screen.

Know the Health Risks

Screen time is directly linked to poor sleep quality. That’s one of many risks a phone entails. Maybe when you give your kid a phone, it isn’t something they can use whenever or wherever. A good halfway step might be your kid only gets their phone when they’re away from you; once they get home, they turn it over. Think about managing your kids screen time.

The Bottom Line

Fair warning: when you have this discussion with your kid, it will provoke a lot of “When I was your age . . .” thinking. We’re sorry. But the world really has changed, so it’s important to approach this question with as much time and attention to detail as you can manage.