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Cell Phones-What Age Should I Get My Child One?

Highlights from this Blog:

-Smartphones are an inevitable part of our society

-The average age of a child owning their own cell phone is getting younger

-Cell phone use by children has both pros and cons

- Setting appropriate usage guidelines and limits is essential. It is your responsibility to monitor how your children use their devices and what they access online. Your own usage serves as a model for your children

A recent study has shown that 97% of Americans own a cell phone, and 85% of Americans own a smartphone. (Demographics of Mobile Device Ownership and Adoption in the United States | Pew Research Center). Over half of U.S. children own a smart phone by age 11 and 20% of U.S. children have one before 8 years old (Report: More Than Half Of U.S. Children Now Own A Smartphone By Age 11 : NPR). The issue of cell phones and appropriate usage is an issue most parents grapple with, and it is not an easy question to answer. Unfortunately, there is not a one size fits all answer to this question. One thing however is certain, smartphones are here to stay and are a part of most people’s everyday lives. Below, we’ll share some potential benefits, risks, and other factors to consider when deciding when the right time is to get your child their own smartphone.

Potential benefits of your child having their own cell phone:

-Instant access to information and development of digital literacy

-Real time communication with your child

-Ability to communicate in emergency situations or if your child gets lost

-Opportunities for social contact and entertainment

-Use geo-tracking apps to see where your child is

Potential downsides of your child having their own cell phone:

-Excessive use could contribute to sleep deprivation, lower grades, and lower amounts of physical activity

-Potential for your child to become addicted and/or dependent on their cell phone

-Possible distraction during school hours and homework

-Access to inappropriate and concerning content

-Potential exposure to cyberbullying

-Potential impact on your child’s mental health. Limited knowledge about the long-term effects of smartphone use.

For many parents, this is not an easy decision. If you do decide to get one for your child, consider their developmental level. Setting appropriate usage guidelines and limits is essential. Take efforts to protect your child and block them from adult content. It is your responsibility to monitor how your children use their devices and what they access online. Lastly, consider your own smartphone use, because after all you are modeling your own behavior.

As a child therapist, I have seen some of the potential downsides of too much cell phone use in children, and parents at times too reluctant to enforce limits out of fear their child will react negatively. If you do decide to get a cell phone for your child, consider having regular conversations about healthy levels of cell phone use as well as emphasizing how to protect their privacy and personal safety. This can include discussions related to healthy amounts of time spent on social media, not posting any personal information online, recognizing that once something is posted online it is permanent, and encouragement to reach out to you as the parent immediately if they feel uncomfortable about anything (and in turn communicating that you will withhold any judgment). Also, consider watching to see if your child’s mood and/or sleep habits are impacted negatively by their cell phone use. Remember that you are the parent, and do not be afraid to enforce limits, take their phone away, or engage in a “technology cleanse” as a family. Encourage alternate activities as alternatives.

If your child is struggling with appropriate cell phone use, please reach out to us at We have licensed therapists that can help address this concern.

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