Ask Titania: When Should I Give My Kid a Phone?
My daughter is 9 years old and some of her friends have already gotten phones. I’m so stressed! I have no idea what the right time for a first phone is — different articles say everything from 10 to 16! How do I know what’s best?
Wondering When It’s The Right Time
Dear Wondering When It’s The Right Time,
Welcome to the question of the hour for so many parents around the world! Giving your kid their first phone has joined other classic childhood rites of passage like the first day of school, riding a bike without training wheels, and getting a driver’s license.
Generally speaking, there’s no age when kids are magically ready for a phone. Some experts suggest ages 10–14, which is when many kids start to be responsible enough to have a phone. But you know your kid best.
Fourth grade might seem too young, but maybe they have some medical issues and you want to make sure you can reach them quickly at a sleepover in an emergency.
On the flip side — tenth grade might seem too old, but maybe your kid has had some behavior problems in the past, and a phone would only exacerbate things. The folks over at Wait Until 8th have resources for families that choose to wait until around age 13 or so, which is often a popular age since that’s when many social media platforms officially allow teens to have accounts.
So, the short answer is: it depends on a ton of factors! The long answer is…this post. Don’t worry, though — I’ll give you lots of things to consider, checklists, ideas, and more. Let’s get into it!
3 Questions to Get You Thinking
Before we get started, I just want to say that there is no right answer to this question: every family is different, and there are healthy ways for kids to navigate life both with and without a cell phone. You just have to pick what’s right for your child.
1. What’s prompting the first-phone discussion?
You mentioned that your kid’s friends were all getting phones. Peer pressure, both from other kids and other parents, can be a pretty strong influence — especially when phones are used to communicate plans for hanging out.
A natural part of growing up is gaining some independence apart from parents. There are going to be things like playdates and after-school activities where you won’t be right there with them. But if they have a phone, you can have instant communication. In a lot of ways, kids having a phone is easy protection against the unknowns of the outside world, especially with tools like location tracking.
We mentioned above the power of peer pressure — it’s a strong one. But this is made all the more so because of how kids socialize. Apart from using a text to plan a meet-up, many kids play games online together or chat in group threads.
2. Is your kid ready? A checklist
It all comes down to responsibility — is your kid responsible enough to have their own phone? The only way to answer that is to look at how they’ve proven (or not proven) their responsibility with other things. For example:
- Do they obey current screen time rules for TV/video games?
- Do they keep up with their schoolwork?
- Do they own up to their mistakes?
- Do they frequently lose or misplace things?
- Do they get distracted easily?
- How well do they handle conflict and receive punishment?
Regardless of your answers, it’s still going to be a leap of faith at the end of the day. You’ll never feel 100% confident that they’re ready, but as long as you and your kid have a healthy level of trust and keep the communication lines open, that’s a good place to start.
3. Are you as a parent ready for this?
I’m not going to sugarcoat it — when your kid gets their first phone, it’s a lot of work. You want to keep on top of their usage, which is where parental controls come into play. Setting screen time limits, blocking inappropriate websites (of which there are millions!), and trying to keep your kid off it 24/7 can be a struggle.
A tool like Bark definitely makes it easier, but you’ll also need to set expectations and lay down ground rules. I recommend sitting down with your kid and creating a tech contract even before they get a phone so they can know what to expect.
As a caveat: In all my chats with parents across the country over the years, one thing I’ve never heard a parent say is “I waited too long to give my kid a phone.” Phones will always be there — and kids will have their whole lives to use one. If you want to prolong childhood a little longer by waiting to give them a phone, that’s absolutely fine!
Still Not Sure? Take Our First Phone Quiz!
Even though you’ve learned a lot about what goes into an important decision like this, it can still be really hard to figure out a final answer! We recommend checking our first phone quiz to get a better idea of whether your child is ready.
Alternatives to Phones
Many parents use a kid’s smartwatch as a stepping stone to the first phone. These devices have features like location tracking and limited texting and calling, which are a good way to ease your child into the world of instantaneous communication. Plus, you can get peace of mind when it comes to safety by always knowing where your kid is. We’ve put together a list of our favorite options here.
How Bark Can Help
No matter when you choose to give your child a phone, Bark can help it make the experience safer. I recommend the Bark Phone, which comes with our parental controls built in, and you can customize nearly every setting on it. For younger kids, you can even make it text-and-talk only. As they get older, you can gradually add in more functionality. It’s the best first phone option out there — period.
I hope this helps! That first phone is a huge milestone, and there’s no right or wrong answer — only how you and your family decide to tackle it together.
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Bark is a comprehensive online safety solution that empowers families to monitor content, manage screen time, and filter websites to help protect their kids online. Our mission is to give parents and guardians the tools they need to raise kids in the digital age.