How Young is Too Young for a Smartphone?

We live in an increasingly tech-driven world. Computers have replaced many functions we used to use our brains and hands for. Since the tech boom in the '90s, kids often absorb technology the quickest and know more than their parents at a very young age. With that in mind, it can get a little dicey to determine the right time for children to earn their first smartphone. On one hand, smartphones can add a level of safety. On the other hand, it can cause more than a few problems at home or in school. Ultimately, it is up to a parent to decide when their child is ready, but here are a few factors to consider that may help you make an informed choice. 

Master your iPhone in one minute a day:

Sign up to iPhone Life's Tip of the Day Newsletter and we'll send you a tip each day to save time and get the most out of your iPhone or iPad.

First of all, there are many practical reasons for a kid to have a smartphone, number one being safety. A smartphone allows you to reach your child anytime, anywhere, and it gives them the ability to reach you or call emergency numbers as well. Newer models of iPhones have turn-by-turn GPS navigation to help make sure your child is never lost. It also has many educational applications that can be helpful in the daily life of children. While these uses are beneficial, the dangers can unfortunately outweigh the benefits. 

While children always seem to know what is best for them, they sometimes are a little off in their ideas. Apple does a great job of keeping questionable material off of the iPhone and iPad, but they cannot be an all-encompassing authority. Children can still access the internet from their Apple devices, and there are a few rogue applications containing adult content. As a parent, it is important to ask yourself if you can trust your child not to seek out inappropriate content and if they are mature enough to react appropriately if they stumble upon such material. Even scarier is the possibility of your child becoming the subject of an inappropriate picture through “sexting” as The Huffington Post points out. 

Another important factor to consider is the cost of ownership of a smartphone. Although it's true that you get what you pay for, Apple products are not the least expensive out there. If you are outside of a contract renewal, it can be difficult to afford a replacement.  Children are always going to be rough and tumble, that is just part of being a kid. You really want to make sure your child is old enough to understand the responsibility that comes with a smartphone. In the same token, they also need to understand money. The hardware may be costly, but that is nothing compared to the costs an unsupervised child can incur. There are horror stories of kids running up cell phone bills into the thousands with millions of text or hours on the phone. There is also the problem of app downloads and in-app payments that can get way out of hand.  If your child is too young to earn a paycheck, she may not understand just how much she is spending. If this is a worry, CNET points out that there are a lot of options out there for parents looking to trust their children with the responsibility before diving into a $500 phone. 

One last issue is the use of smartphones in a school setting.  Most schools ban phones in the classroom, but it is rare that a ban will actually stop a teenager. Having a smartphone in class can not only be a distraction, but it can be a tool for cheating. Many teachers have found ways to prohibit kids from using their phones during tests, but it does not always keep it from happening. nicely laid out the top 10 concerns of having smartphones in the classroom. It also shared a model “acceptable, responsible use guidelines, policies, and practices that you can take back to your schools and districts” that parents and teachers can use as a contract with students. 

The truth is, there is no perfect age to say that a child is ready for a smartphone. It really all depends on the maturity of the child and the responsibility the parent is ready to take on. It is easy to say that 5, 8, or 10 is too young, but who is to say depending on any given family’s lifestyle. What is important is that you feel your child is ready for the massive responsibility of a smartphone, and that you choose a smartphone with the best security protocols out there.

Master your iPhone in one minute a day: Sign up here to get our FREE Tip of the Day delivered right to your inbox.

Arthur is an experienced freelance writer and iPhone fanatic. He enjoys writing articles about many subjects, but specializes in mobile technology, parenting, relationships, and fitness. Arthur has been featured in many prominent fitness and parenting publications as well as in "A Brave New Word" literary magazine. In his spare time, Arthur enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters, and of course, playing with his iPhone.