The Short Version:
Based on the best articles and ideas I have found I believe the best approach for providing a smartphone for your child is a four-phase approach. First, get them a device that allows them to call, send some texts, and allows you to track where they are. The best option is to start when they are younger with a device like the Gizmo Gadget (Verizon offers this option) which allows parents to control who they can call and text. Second, a flip phone which allows calls and texts but has no internet and no apps. Third a more tightly controlled smartphone, Gabb Wireless is an excellent choice (we are an affiliate). Then fourth a smartphone with monitoring and control software to help keep them safe. And one last thing, the phone belongs to the parents and not the child, don’t give it as a gift!
More Detail and Reference Articles:
One of the most difficult questions a parent ever asks themselves regarding their children and technology is “When is the right time to give my child a smartphone?” That is actually the wrong question.
First of all, it implies that you will “give” your child a phone. The best suggestions I have read on the subject say that the parent should retain ownership of the phone and allow their child to “use”, “rent” or “borrow” the phone for personal use.
The second problem with the question is the assumption that you will begin the introduction of personal technology in your child’s life with a “smartphone”. Again, this is the wrong place to start.
Here is the best advice I have found on when and how to introduce phone technology into your child’s life.
Protect Young Minds
From an article posted in 2018 on the website Protect Young Minds these are some really great insights and suggestions around kids and technology. The article is titled “When Should Kids Have Cell Phones? Savvy Parents Reveal Best Strategies.”
Here is an outline and some highlights from the article:
First, what are the major considerations you should be weighing in this decision?
- Safety and parents’ peace of mind
- To use for school or class work
The author then goes on to discuss linking cell phones with personal responsibility. Some parents have guidelines such as:
- The child is 16, have a driver’s license, a job, and good grades
- “None of our kids got phones before 16. Only then if they kept good grades and a job so they could pay for their phone. We paid the basic fees so the phone still belonged to us and they were renting it to use each month. If poor grades or behavior get their phone taken away, they do not get a refund.”
The author then discusses alternatives to smartphones. One of the best parts of the article is one parent’s 4-step plan to allow your child to grow into the responsibility of having a smartphone. The plan is as follows:
- “The Verizon Gizmo Gadget watch at around age 5.
- A flip phone that allows them to call and text at age 8.
- A smartphone without data so they can call, text, and use it at home for games and filtered internet at age 12.
- A smartphone at age 14 (or freshman year in high school) with filtering like Circle by Disney.”
The article also goes on to recommend communicating with your kids about phones openly and honestly, setting clear and fair rules, and maybe even using a family phone contract.
Better Screen Time
Another excellent article from BetterScreenTime.com goes into more detail on the four-phase process of walking your child from no technology all the way to a smartphone. It’s called “Feature Phone to Smart Phone: A Four-Phase Process.”
Here are the four phases they suggest:
- Start with a Feature Phone- a feature phone is one that basically allows for texting and calls and has minimal other features. It typically does not have internet access/browser capability which also implies no social media or apps. Two suggestions are Verizon’s Gizmo watch and Gabb Wireless phone which has calling, texting, and a camera. It has no internet access and no apps but it looks like a smartphone. GreatCity.org is an affiliate for Gabb Wireless as well as Better Screen Time.
- Transition to a “bare-bones” smartphone – they define this as a phone with no games and no social media, but most other capabilities of a smartphone.
- Add a few non-social media apps – This allows your teen to have some apps, perhaps games, that you both agree on but still no social media apps.
- Add Social Media – this is when your teen has graduated to the point that they are allowed some access to social media.
Social media is one of the most powerful and potentially destructive influences in a teen’s life and it needs to be earned and only given to teens that have demonstrated the ability to use it responsibly. There also needs to be a lot of conversation around the proper use of social media for a child or teen.
Protect Young Eyes
Chris McKenna at Protect Young Eyes wrote an article about how his daughter was getting a smartphone at age 12. That is not a magical age and he does not base his decision on her age alone. He gives four reasons why she is ready that every parent should consider. They are:
- She’s been trained
- She’s proven herself trustworthy
- She’s made mistakes (and learned from them)
- She’s not going to have social media
If you want to read the full article, you can find it here.
About the Author:
Terry has been an entrepreneur in the IT industry for over 30 years. Go here to read his complete personal story, “Husband, father, Grandfather and IT Executive.” If you want to send Terry a quick message visit the contact page Here.
If you would like to receive weekly email updates about how to talk to, monitor, and control your child’s digital experience, please join our mailing list below.