Children and Smartphones: What’s the Right Age? | tom’s guide

According to the article in the link above, there’s no consensus on when children should be given their own smartphone. One expert does say, however, that it’s “not developmentally appropriate” for a child to have their own phone before Grade 6 (Year 7 in England).

Almost everywhere else in England, Year 7 (i.e. 11 years old) is when pupils start secondary school. That’s also the time when many children start walking to school by themselves for the first time.

We have a different system in Northumberland, which is where I was brought up, and where we’re raising our family. Here, it’s a three-tier system, where children move to middle school at the start of Year 5. That means it’s entirely normal here for every nine year-old to be going to school without their parents.

These days, its unreasonable to expect a family member who is somewhere by themselves not to be able to contact the other members. That’s why we’re giving my son a phone this week and spending the next few months teaching him how to use it safely and effectively. We’ll effectively be acting as digital coaches.

We’re giving him an iPhone 5C, which is my wife’s old device after she upgraded a couple of months ago. While I was sorely tempted to give him a feature phone instead of a smartphone, it seems anachronistic to do so. He’s going to get a smartphone at some point, so it might as well be from the start.

Given that we’ve many other devices in the house (feature phones, an older iPhone, Android, FirefoxOS devices) the iPhone 5C was an intentional choice. The family sharing options are pretty stellar on iOS devices and, if we need to, we can restrict some of the functionality of the device. I’ll not be doing that in the first instance (over and above the default filters in place by the mobile network) as I want his use to be based on trust.

So, to begin with, he’s going to be on a £5/month ‘shockproof’ contract (250 mins, 5000 texts, 1GB data) which doesn’t allow him to go over his allocation. He’ll set the passcode, but he’s only allowed to use it outside of our home.

I’m planning to have a series of conversations with him over the next few weeks and months about having a networked camera in his pocket, about appropriate online behaviour (we’ll invite him to the social network we use exclusively for our family), and healthy digital habits.

Parenting is hard. There are no correct answers; what’s right for one family is wrong for another. I’m taking this approach and it may turn out to be the wrong one. What I’m trying to avoid is the ‘kid in a candy store’ approach to him getting his first device. He’s been blogging on his own domain since he was five; a few months ago he got an email account; he’s got his own digital camera. This smartphone is not a birthday present, it’s a device which inducts him further into the digital world that we all inhabit. It should also help family cohesion from September onwards.

We’ll see what happens.