Mobile phones for kids: What age is appropriate to give a child a mobile phone?

Let’s talk about mobile phones for kids. If you’re a parent of a child capable of talking, they’ve probably already asked for their own mobile phone. Smartphone ownership is at its highest level in history, and kids these days are growing up in a mobile-dominated culture.

Although most kids simply want a mobile phone to play games or connect with their peers on social media, there’s a lot to be said for being able to keep in touch with your child once they start to become more independent venturing out there in the world without you by their side 24/7.

You can’t deny that pickups become a whole lot simpler when you’re able to call them and that knowing they can call you if anything happens allows us to give them a little more freedom.

So the question is – when it comes to mobile phones for kids, what is the right age for a mobile phone, and how do you know when your child is ready?

What the industry says

According to the great Bill Gates, he didn’t give his children phones until they turned 14. That may seem rather late for some of you, particularly seeing as it’s not uncommon to see primary aged children calling their parents as they leave the school gate.

In fact, according to Ofcom’s most recent report, 1% of the under fives already have their own smartphone. This rises to 5% in the age five to seven bracket, and 35% when they get to age eight to 11. By age 12 – 15, this is up to 83%.

Research shows that the average age for children be given mobile phones is 10.3 years old. That’s down from age 12 in 2016. Ultimately, there’s no hard and fast rule about when a child needs a phone, so we need to look at other indicators to decide when the time is right.

Age versus maturity

In some ways, it’s not so much about a defining age which makes a phone appropriate, but more about how mature our children are. Looking for signs that they’re ready to be more responsible is a great place to start, such as:

  • Being on time when you’re picking them up
  • Not losing their personal belongings
  • Adhering to rules about bedtime and screen time
  • Doing homework without a fuss
  • Being mature enough to understand internet safety
  • Coming home when they say they will

Having a generally good level of responsibility around other things in their life bodes well for mobile phone ownership and should give you some confidence that they’re probably ready for their own device.

Need versus want

The next thing to consider when it comes to phones for kids is why they might need a mobile phone. Of course they want one, that’s a given, but other than winning brownie points as an awesome parent, are there actual reasons that a mobile phone is needed?

If they’re simply into playing mobile games – which you may or may not want! – then a tablet offers the same functionality, and with an even bigger screen. Because most tablets rely on Wi-Fi for connectivity, this will give you additional control over what they see and can access on the internet, using parental controls built into your router. You can take a look at some of the best kids tablets here.

However, if they need to be in touch with you for safety reasons, or you think a phone would benefit them socially, then it might be a better choice.

Smartphone versus mobile phone

For many parents, the trigger for needing a phone is often the age when children start walking themselves to and from school. With most UK schools allowing children to walk themselves from Key Stage 2 (age 7-8), that’s still awfully young for a fully featured smartphone with unbridled internet access.

If the need for a phone is purely for safety and emergency situations, you don’t necessarily need to go for a smartphone in order to satisfy this need. Basic mobile phones might not have the street cred your child demands, but they are often more functional as emergency contact devices than a smartphone could ever hope to be.

Very basic phones have far superior battery life. Many will happily sit in the bottom of a schoolbag on standby for up to a week, without any charging required. Most smartphones, on the other hand, can barely last a day without a top up, and much less if they’re using it for gaming too.

Responsibilities on both sides

Ultimately, when it comes to mobile phones for kids the decision to give your child a mobile phone is entirely yours. Weighing up the pros and cons, as well as the character and outlook of your own child, will help you to make the best decision possible.

If you do decide it’s a good time to enter the world of smartphone ownership, its important to maintain responsibility on both sides for your child’s safety. Make sure they understand the risks of irresponsible phone use, and that they’re aware of internet safety in general.

The Ofcom report mentioned earlier found that 40% of 8-11 year olds are allowed to take their phones to bed, rising to 71% in the 12- 15 age group. Personally, I find this astounding, what with all the research into the effects of screens on our sleep cycles.

When thinking about phones for kids, putting restrictions on phone use and screen time will almost always prove unpopular, but while our kids are still kids, it’s a necessary evil. Limiting their use of their phone, particularly at bedtime, will help them maintain a balance, and teach them good habits for when they are adults too.

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57 comments

  1. For me, I think I will give my kids a mobile phone when they start secondary school but it won’t be a smart phone. It will literally be a phone to make calls to say “I’m on my way home” or “I’m home” etc. We do consider bullying but we also consider the affect social media can have on easily influenced tweens and it has to balance out.

  2. I’m really not sure what to do with my girls! Im very aware of making them a target for street robbery which is sadly high in London. But also equally I need them to get hold of me should they need to we we’re aiming for year 7 which is heading towards us far to quickly!!

  3. I have to agree my daughter is due highschool in September and think it’s important for her to have one then I don’t see the point of kids having phones before this because they are not away from you as much as will be when start highschool also think they have more understanding of being safe at highschool age

  4. My daughter is 8 and recently started asking for a mobile, but I would totally not consider it yet . I think I would at maybe 13

  5. I believe that 12 years old is the minimum children should have to be granted to won a smartphone but with parental control and time limits, of course.

  6. To be honest, I don’t think kids “need” phones as soon as they start secondary school. If anything bad happens to them someone will call, and if anything I think they’re more likely to be attacked if they have something worth stealing like a phone. I think about 14 years old.

  7. We gave our sons a mobile for their 11th birthday, ready for them to start high. We trusted them to use the phone safely and have appropriate apps. They were moving to high school and needed to be able to let us know when they were heading home.

  8. I think that a phone as essential as soon as the child has independence as it provides peace of mind that they can be in contact when needed and a simple smart phone would be useful.

  9. Well, if you asked me this question 10 years ago.. I’ll probably say when they’re 10 at least but know due to smartphones being smarter than nowadays parents, I’d say a child should be 14 or 15 years old at least. There are so many cancerous things related to using smartphones, many which come from variety of content on the Internet.

  10. i think that you should know if your own child can cope with one and understand the dangers of them first , if so then maybe when they start high school

  11. Because my children had to travel a long way to their secondary school it seemed like a good time to get mobile phones, albeit very basic ones with a small amount of credit.

  12. It will vary according to the child but I think it’s important to build a culture in which the phone is used to enhance family ties and feelings of safety rather than building unhelpful relationships outside the family.

  13. In my point of view … Childrens should get mobile phones cause it’ll help them to understand what going out in the world…. It will also help them to have great knowledge about each and every thing …. which will help them to be build as a perfect human beings on the upcoming future…

  14. Kids having a smartphone could be useful as long as the adults or parents will ensure a strict guidance on their kids while they’re using it. But for me it is not necessary for a 12 years old kid and below to have a smartphone. But wireless analog phone could be essential for them. I will probably give my future kid/s a walkie-talkie instead of a smartphone.

  15. Now a days kids are very smart enough to use smartphones by their own, there is more possibilities for misusing, we cannot monitor their activity all the time, even if we try, kids will sort out of it easily, so it will be good to give kids a smartphone while they are mature enough to understand what’s good and what’s not.

  16. I got my first cellphone roughly at the age of 17 when I was a Senior in high school and started my first job. I didn’t get my first ‘Smart-phone’ until May of 2019 (at the age of 30). I agree with the fact that maturity should play a huge role in determining when a child gets their first smart phone. It’s hard to say a specific age because circumstances vary and children develop maturity at different rates.

  17. TBH I think kids should be given mobile after age of 8 or above to avoid early eyglasses and there is lot more things to see outside mobile in this beautifull world 🙂

  18. I think Kids need a phone so Adults can communicate with them BUT without Social Media until a certain Age because they make a lot of mistakes there, a have seen a lot, and its really worrying.

  19. My wife and I gave our kids cell phones at age 12, and honestly they were not mature enough at the time to take care of them. One of them dropped their phone from the top of a Ferris Wheel! It went crashing to the ground and broke in a million pieces. Another one left it laying around for others to pick up and take. They just did not mature to about 14, to really handle a phone with responsibility.

  20. I decide to give my children their first phone when they started walking to and from school on their own. It meant they could call me if they needed me.

  21. Wow wonderful article this true the phone will be helpful to children ☺️

  22. I think it depends on where you live if the child gets to school by bus or train and also how responsible the child is, Our son got one when he started senior school age 11 so he could let me know if he was staying behind for a club or popping to a friends

  23. In my opinion, it depends on some important things. Maybe from 7 or 8 years.

  24. My eldest daughter has autism and adhd. We gave her one at 8. I want her to be be fully confident to know how to use it and be safe and work out any kinks now than when she NEEDS to use it and doesn’t know how when she hits secondary school or in an emergency. However this is SEN based. For my other daughter it will be when she hits secondary school. I know she knows and is confident to work her way around my phone. She has a tablet and has learned internet safety from this. However if she didn’t have her tablet having my old contract phone with no sim would work just as well as a tablet but smaller. I really have no issues with age, just with how it is introduced and the rules that go having this device and parental controls/checks just as you would with a tablet. These days you see toddlers watching netflixs on their parents phones when shopping. It may not be their device but they know how to use it and may even use it more than the parents!

  25. I think generation already changed the in a way that our children already can operate a mobile phone. We parents should just control it, since we don’t have a choice

  26. I think 10 years old is about right so they can get confident in using it before they start secondary school

  27. I think it depends on the child but I wouldn’t give one until they start secondary school.

  28. I think depending on each individual circumstances, I would say age 12 is a good age for children to have their first phone

  29. a friend of mine had the rule that they were allowed tech and access to social media etc as long as she had the passwords and could access it anytime to check up, if she ever tried and they had changed it, she would confiscate the tech

  30. My son starts secondary in September. We’ll get him a mobile before he leaves primary so he can keep in touch with friends over the summer and for travelling to his new school.

  31. I think about 10 or 11, so they can be more independent and stay in contact while making their own way to school.

  32. It depends on how mature the child is and how they are able to appreciate the dangers, e.g. cyberbullying.

  33. 6 – 7 years old. Teaching how to use in time when needed most . Emergencies can happen at any age and grown ups not be near.

  34. I’m thinking when they start high school, so age 11/12. It will give them a little independence and responsibility of something to look after x

  35. I think kids of these days are smart even to a level o surpassing their old sister and brother so there is no point to letting them have phone at a certain age just let them have phones

  36. I think kids of these days are smart even to a level o surpassing their old sister and brother so there is no point to letting them have phone at a certain age just let them have phones

  37. We gave our eldest daughter one of our old phones when she tunred 10 and started walking to school with her little sister without my wife or I. It was only to be used to let us know they got there safely.

    We’ve relaxed that more now and she can now message her friends as she’s shown a level of maturity about using the phone.

  38. I think with every family it different, My kids didnt get phones until high school. But i think it also plays a big part in where you are living. Having a cell phone now days is good and bad. The good is they can stay connected to family, If they get lost or in need of help they can call. The bad is they could get rob for the cell phone, it gives them to much freedom to the web. My granddaughter has one, She is 7 years old but it not smart phone and only able to call family. There so many things kids get caught up in with social media with smart phones. But it a hard choice to make cause kids bully you if you are not in the cell phone trend. I say do what you feel is right for your child. If they have a cellphone make sure to be that nosey parent. It best to know what your kids are up to. To protect them from the crazy world we live in.

  39. I agree and honestly believe that there is no point for a child to have a phone before high school. The child is around you all the time and does not know how to operate the media in a safe and responsible way.

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