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What’s the Right Age for a Child to Get a Smartphone?

The New York Times published an article, written by Brian X. Chen on JULy 20th, 2016 asking this question. I suggest that you give this to your parents and have a discussion at a Parents Meeting.

The smartphone, after all, is the key to unfettered access to the internet and the many benefits and dangers that come with it. But unlike driving a car, which is legal in some states starting at the age of 16, there is no legal guideline for a parent to determine when a child may be ready for a smartphone.

The topic is being increasingly debated as children get smartphones at an ever younger age. On average, children are getting their first smartphones around age 10, according to the research firm Influence Central down from age 12 in 2012. For some children, smartphone ownership starts even sooner — including second graders as young as 7, according to internet safety experts.

James P. Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that reviews content and products for families, has a strict rule for his family: His children get a smartphone only when they start high school — after they have learned restraint and the value of face-to-face communication. “No two kids are the same, and there’s no magic number,” he said. “A kid’s age is not as important as his or her own responsibility or maturity level.”

So how do parents determine, when?  The longer you wait to give your children a smartphone, the better. Some experts said 12 was the ideal age, while others said 14. All agreed later was safer because smartphones can be addictive distractions that detract from schoolwork while exposing children to issues like online bullies, child predators or sexting.

The Research

Ms. Weinberger, who wrote the smartphone and internet safety book “The Boogeyman Exists: And He’s in Your Child’s Back Pocket,” said she had surveyed 70,000 children in the last 18 months and found that, on average, sexting began in the fifth grade, pornography consumption began when children turned 8, and pornography addiction began around age 11.

In a separate study published this year, Common Sense Media polled 1,240 parents and children and found 50 percent of the children admitted that they were addicted to their smartphones. It also found that 66 percent of parents felt their children used mobile devices too much, and 52 percent of children agreed. About 36 percent of parents said they argued with their children daily about device use.

Pros and Cons

Smartphones undoubtedly bring benefits. With the devices, children gain access to powerful apps, including education tools for studying, chat apps for connecting with friends and the wealth of information on the web.

But they also are one step closer to distracting games, sexting apps and social media apps where online bullies are on the prowl. Even older children are not immune: Last year, at least 100 students at a Colorado high school were embroiled in a scandal that involved trading naked pictures of themselves on their mobile devices.

Parents will determine when their child truly needs a smartphone. When that time comes, there are approaches for testing the waters before handing one to the child. One popular option is to start the child off with dumbed-down mobile devices,like feature phones that can only send text messages or place phone calls, and to assess whether they can use those devices responsibly.

Parents might sign a contract with their  child stating what the consequences are for breaking the rules, and the child must sign the contract before receiving a smartphone.

The easiest way to limit child use is to take away the cellphone at night. Nighttime is for doing homework, reading, watching television, or sleeping – not for texting.

There are some phone settings that can help keep children safe when they do get smartphones.

For iPhones, Apple offers a switchboard full of features that parents can enable or disable, including the ability to restrict the Safari browser from gaining access to adult content and the ability to prevent apps from using cellular data. The iPhone’s parental controls  live inside the Settings app in a menu labeled Restrictions.

Android phones lack similar built-in parental control settings, though there are many apps in the Google Play app store that let parents add restrictions. One app Qustodio, which lets parents monitor their children’s text messages, disable apps at certain times of day or even shut off a smartphone remotely.

 

 

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