The holiday season is full of new and exciting gifts, and your student might be asking, “When is it my turn to get a cell phone?”

Smart phones can be an intimidating purchase, especially with the risks of unlimited internet access, cyberbullying, and too much screen time. How do you know when it’s the right time to give them a smart phone?

There are several topics to consider when your child wants a cell phone.

1. Your Child’s Awareness Matters

Sometimes it’s more about behavior than age. A 12-year-old who is responsible and aware is more likely to do well with a smart phone than a 14-year-old who does not complete tasks and loses belongings. Consider your child’s awareness –their ability to keep up with items, social cues, and understanding the consequences of their actions.

2. Talk About Screen Time

How well does your child follow rules? If you think they will respect screen time limits, good news, now may be a good time! Studies show that too much screen time can be a bad thing, and it is important to set a limit that works for your family. Smart phones, especially social media platforms, can be addicting. If there is a strong possibility your student reacts negatively to you telling them to put down the phone, wait a little longer, and then have a conversation with them explaining the importance of putting the phone down. If your child is respectful about tasks and rules you give them now, use that as an indicator to how they will react to screen time limits.

3. Consider Whether the Phone is a Need

Sure, your child wants a phone, but do they need it? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do they have a volunteer position or part-time job?
  • Are they dropped off at sports practice or activities by someone other than you?
  • Do they spend the night away from home? Are they spending time home alone?
  • Does your child call you from someone else’s phone?
  • Do you have a land line at home?

As your child becomes more independent, a smartphone will become more of a necessity. If you’re thinking they may not need it at this time, but your student enjoys playing games on apps, a tablet is a good alternative.

4. Start Out with an Older Model

If you’re unsure whether your student should have a new phone initially, start them out with an older model. This is good testing ground to see how they handle the responsibility. Take one of your older phones to your carrier and ask them to reactivate it or ask what older models they have available. You’ll save some money while you’re at it, too!

5. Try Middle School

While there’s no clear answer of “when,” middle school is a good place to start. Middle school calls for more responsibility, and students mature more during this time in their lives. Students start to take on extracurricular activities and spend time with friends outside of school and parent supervision.

Remember, not every family nor every child the same, and the timing is different for all! Consider these guidelines, talk it out, and you’ll make the right decision. Want extra help? Check out these resources for more tips on when to get your child a cell phone.