You’ve likely read a report or heard one on the news saying that cell phones are bad for kids, but they never really explain why. This is partly because it is incredibly complicated and partly because studies are still being performed to answer that question. Some things that experts have said though include the following:
- Young brains start craving the easy dopamine and become addicted.
- Kids start to ignore their needs for things like sleep, food, friends, and even a meaning in life.
- Social Skills are neglected or not learned at all.
What Age is Ok For Kids to Get Cell Phones?
So that brings us to the question, what age is ok for kids to have cell phones? And of course the answer to that is that it is complicated and there really isn’t one single answer. Though some experts say that there is. So I’ve broken the answer down into two parts, what experts say and then how to decide for you and your child when it is the right time.
What the Experts Say
American Academy of Pediatrics
There is no “right” age but there should be consistent limits on media consumption for children ages six and up. Under 6 the recommendations are:
- Up to 18 months: Screen time only for video calls with parents or grandparents.
- 18 -24 months: Screen time only for educational programming while supervised by an adult.
- 2 – 5 Year: Non educational screen time limited to 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours on weekend days.
Common Sense Media (Nonprofit advocacy group focusing on how media and technology impacts young people.)
CommonSense Media’s official stance is that there is no right time and that it will differ for every child based on their maturity, ability to follow rules, and what feels right for your family.
However, founder and CEO James Steyer had the rule of no cell phones until after his kids started high school and after “they have learned restraint and the value of face-to-face communication.”
Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft
I’ve included both Bill Gates and his counterpart from Apple, Steve Jobs on this list because I think it’s important not only to see what experts say, but what the people who are creating technology are doing. In this case Bill Gates forbid his children from having cell phones until they were 14 years old. Then once they were allowed to have them they had strict rules about when they could and couldn’t use them. No cell phones at the dinner table and all screens had to be put away before a certain hour so the kids could get to sleep at a reasonable hour.
Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple
When the iPad was released in 2010, Steve Jobs wouldn’t allow his children, all of whom were teens at the time, to use them. He also limited his kid’s use of technology.
I think it really says something important when the people who created these technologies aren’t letting their kids use them.
Wait Until the 8th
The Wait Until the 8th pledge is one that was organized by parents and focuses on empowering parents and encouraging them to wait until the 8th grade before kids are given smartphones. They do acknowledge though that kids should have phones. So they encourage parents to give their kids basic phones that allow calls and texts.
Their website also states, “Smartphones are distracting and potentially dangerous for children yet are widespread in elementary and middle school because of unrealistic social pressure and expectations to have one.”
How to Decide For Yourself
The truth is, one day your kids are going to come to you asking for a smartphone, in fact that day may have already come. It will be up to you to decide if you will grant them that wish or not. But how do you decide if the time is right? Ask yourself and your children these questions.
Why do you want a cell phone? (Peer pressure like “all my friends have them” is a common answer, and not a good reason to have one.)
Is your child mature enough to handle bullying or the possibility of inappropriate contact from adults?
Are they mature enough to follow the rules you’ve set limiting screen time and which websites they’re allowed to use?
Do your kids have a grasp of basic internet safety?
Use these questions as a guideline for when your child is ready. Don’t be afraid to limit screen time or even take phones away if they aren’t following the rules you’ve set. Remember that if you do take the phone away they will react quite poorly and may lash out. This may be a sign of addiction.
Here’s another article I wrote on a very similar topic not too long ago. Why You Should Limit Screen Time