This article was written by Kayelene Kerr from eSafeKids.
For many of us parenting today the first phone we used was attached to the wall and the only privacy you got was dependent on how far you could stretch the cord. Fast forward to today and one of the questions I'm often asked is what is the 'right' age for a child/young person to get their first phone. I'd love to say there's a magic age but like allowing children to access social media and other online services, there's not one age that suits all.
What to consider before you say 'yes'.
Determining when a child should get their first phone depends on various factors. Here are some considerations:
Family Values Each family has its own values and rules regarding technology use. Consider how introducing a phone aligns with your family's values and guidelines.
Maturity Assess whether the child demonstrates responsible behaviour and an understanding of the importance of digital etiquette and safety.
Communication Needs Consider your child's need for communication. If they spend more time independently, participate in extracurricular activities or need to coordinate schedules, a phone may become more practical. The phone provides a means for communication, promoting connectivity with family and friends. This can be valuable as children engage in more activities outside the immediate family environment.
Emergency Preparedness If a child is often away from parents or living between homes, having a phone can be a safety measure for emergencies and allow parents to stay in contact.
Developmental Readiness Cognitive, social and emotional development varies among individuals. Additional consideration may be given to children with a cognitive disability.
Age Chronological and developmental age can vary greatly. While there is no one-size-fits-all age for getting a phone, parents may consider introducing a basic phone or smartphone with limited features for the first phone and gradually transitioning to a more advanced device as they mature.
Ultimately, the decision will be based on what works best for your family's needs and aligns with your values.
It's not all, or nothing.
The introduction of a child's first phone marks a significant stage in their development. It represents not only a technological milestone but also a transition toward increased independence and responsibility. Balancing the excitement and possibilities of a first phone with clear guidelines, communication and supervision is crucial. Introducing the first phone requires thoughtful consideration and remember, it's not all, or nothing. I recommend a gradual approach, consider this your child's training wheels time.
Communicate and Explain Talk to your child about the responsibilities that come with having a phone. Explain the purpose of the phone, such as communication and limited entertainment to begin. Managing a personal device teaches children about responsibility, including the need for care, organisation and adherence to rules. Before introducing the phone, set clear guidelines regarding screen time, online behaviour expectations and the responsibilities that come with a phone. Discuss these with your child to ensure mutual understanding. I recommend using the eSafeKids Family Technology Plan as a guide. Keep communication channels open. Encourage your child to discuss any concerns or experiences they have with you. Be proactive in addressing potential challenges and reinforcing positive online behaviour.
Choose an age-appropriate first phone Consider starting with a basic phone or a smartphone with limited features suitable for their age. Ensure that the device has parental control options that allow you to monitor and manage usage. Provide hands-on guidance on how to use the phone, including security, privacy, making calls, sending messages and accessing necessary apps. Also consider does your child need a phone or would a digital watch suffice.
Supervised Usage Initially, allow your child to use the phone in controlled situations or specific timeframes. Encourage responsible usage by using the phone together and addressing any questions they may have. Gradually increase their independence with the phone as they demonstrate responsibility.
Model Set a positive example by demonstrating responsible phone use, including respecting screen time limits and maintaining a healthy balance between online and offline activities. Children learn by example, model respectful digital etiquette.
Emergency Preparedness Teach your child how to contact you or emergency services if needed.
Parental controls Consider what you going to use to manage and monitor the phone. I recommend reading eSafeKids Blog: Parental Controls. Remember to regularly review and adjust these settings as needed.
Consequences Decide on appropriate consequences before they are needed. The intention here is not to threaten your child, rather to be clear what your expectations are and how boundary pushing and breaking will be dealt with.
First phone - Loan, don't own
Having a device is a privilege, not a right. I recommend parents own the phone and loan it to the child. As the parent you own the phone and provide access to it by loaning it to the child.
"This device is on loan to you and with it comes rules and responsibilities. As your parent/s we have the responsibility to teach, guide, model and support you to have safe, positive and respectful online experiences. We have to consider your developing brain and body and also how technology use can affect your mood, behaviour and choices.
Your health, wellbeing and safety is very important to us. We know you won’t always agree with our decisions but please know we have your best interests at heart.
The internet is amazing and an important part of your life. It’s also ever changing so we’ll have ongoing discussions about what you can and can’t do. We will listen to you and consider your point of view. If we say 'no' to something it’s not 'no' forever it’s ‘no, not yet’, we’re open to considering it in the future."
Additional conversations may include:
Why do you want/need a phone?
What will you use it for?
What are the school rules about phones?
What are you going to do with your phone at school?
How much time do you think is reasonable to spend on your phone?
If you loose or damage the phone what do you think the consequences should be?
Consider not just 'what' you talk about, but 'how' you talk
On going conversation and education is important but be mindful of how you talk to your child. Aim for non-confrontational and conversational. Don't just talk about the risks and harms, being alarmist can shut down conversation and help seeking. Research with young people has found they like to be asked about their experiences, rather than being spoken AT about harms. Intentionally talk about all the awesome stuff as well. It also helps to remember that many young people enjoy their online experiences and not all encouter challenges.
If you use a teachable moment use open questions:
"Have you seen this? What do you think? "Do you think your friends experience things like this?"
"If you experienced something like this what could you do?"
"Is there something that could make it difficult for you to talk with me?"
"How can I best support you?"
If your child experiences a hurtful, harmful or unsafe online experience we want them to turn to us, not away from us.
You may like to read the following eSafeKids Blogs:
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About The Author
Kayelene Kerr is recognised as one of Western Australia’s most experienced specialist providers of Protective Behaviours, Body Safety, Cyber Safety, Digital Wellness and Pornography education workshops. Kayelene is passionate about the prevention of child abuse and sexual exploitation, drawing on over 27 years’ experience of study and law enforcement, investigating sexual crimes, including technology facilitated crimes. Kayelene delivers engaging and sought after prevention education workshops to educate, equip and empower children and young people, and to help support parents, carers, educators and other professionals. Kayelene believes protecting children from harm is a shared responsibility and everyone can play a role in the care, safety and protection of children. Kayelene aims to inspire the trusted adults in children’s lives to tackle sometimes challenging topics.
eSafeKids strives to reduce and prevent harm through proactive prevention education, supporting and inspiring parents, carers, educators and other professionals to talk with children, young people and vulnerable adults about protective behaviours, body safety, cyber safety, digital wellness and pornography. eSafeKids is based in Perth, Western Australia.
eSafeKids provides books and resources to teach children about social and emotional intelligence, resilience, empathy, gender equality, consent, body safety, protective behaviours, cyber safety, digital wellness, media literacy, puberty and pornography.
eSafeKids books can support educators teaching protective behaviours and child abuse prevention education that aligns with the Western Australian Curriculum, Australian Curriculum, Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and National Quality Framework: National Quality Standards (NQS).