What’s the right age for a child to get a smartphone?

by August 8, 2017
alec prado

Alec Prado is currently studying at Riverside City College, United states. Alec is the 4th Runner up and has won an amount of $75. Alec chose to write on the topic: Is there an age for smartphones to be given to children?

It began with a call. Some people get calls often. I never got many calls, until about a year ago I got a call that changed my life forever. I had become a father. Suddenly a flash forward into my future had me asking more questions than I could answer. Then it hit me; a wall. A literal wall smacked me on the head, and it got me thinking. I saw my son or daughter grown up walking into traffic because they were too caught up in a dire game of Angry Birds and getting struck by a frantic courier. Their last words forever being immortalized as a slew of curse words because they didn’t get every egg in the level. This was a terrible image in my head and made me consider at what age should children be able to have a smartphone? Not just any child, but my child.

The benefits of cell phones in the hands of children are as innumerable as the harm it could bring. On the one hand, they would be entertained for life! No parenting required! I could theoretically introduce them to Google and let them figure everything out, with Disney and Jimmy Fallon as their teachers for life. And on the other, they would most likely become a computer-zombie hybrid with the social aptitude of an acorn. Both were bad parenting choices. I couldn’t expect my child to just ‘let it go, let it go, can’t hold back anymore’ at every problem they encountered. I decided listing the pros and cons of giving a child a smartphone would be the only thing to allow me to go to sleep after hours of worrying.

The pros for having a cell phone are really mostly for me. A child going to school would never be more than a click away from mommy or daddy calling them every hour to check up on their day and if they’re eating their vegetables, who are bullying them and so on. Theoretically, they’d call me to pick them up and I’d know the exact amount of time reasonable for a parent to ignore their child to get in extra video game time before they get suspicious that I’m playing their games and/or Legos. This includes time not just at school but at the library, a friend’s house or at the cemetery on Halloween night.

As a child, they would be empowered (which is a great thing for one’s child), to be able to look up answers, facts, and general knowledge about school things and Mine craft secrets. If I were as good a parent as my coffee mug would suggest, I would teach them the finer points of when to be on their phone. I would teach them to limit their use before bed, during dinner and to not be on the toilet for so long that they fall asleep on it. Children need to know these kinds of things. Not just for them, but for the people who need to deal with them all the time. Nobody wants to associate themselves with a young gentleman or lady who clearly didn’t stop using the phone before and after entering the bathroom. There are rules of etiquette that need to be taught to children if they are to be given a phone. It’s like allowing a child to drive your car, you make sure they can see over the steering wheel THEN you give them the keys. Setting up a child for success is an important part of being a good parent.

However, this brings up a whole new world of problems, something nobody told Aladdin when he sang that song, “A Whole New World of Responsibilities.” Giving a child a smartphone is really like giving a child the keys to your car. You can set them up for success, but the second you take your eyes off them they’re metaphorically driving off the ‘safe lane’ you provided for them and off into the highway of illegal downloading, dodgy videos and bad internet practices doomed to follow them for the rest of their life. Internet comments and pictures stay up forever, and nothing can separate the internet from a smartphone. When their mind is set, not even the most secure devices can stop a cunning teen from accessing whatever treacherous website they want. One should expect the worst when giving an adolescent the gateway to a dangerous world of the internet. Just like kittens and toilet paper, it can only end up bad for everyone.

There is obviously a good time to give your child a smartphone, just like there’s a necessary time to give someone the keys to a car. At some time, the equilibrium between risk and responsibility equals out and you can feel safe giving a child a smartphone. You might still feel a heavy hesitation that comes with handing something over with an inherent risk like a skateboard or a book by Stephanie Meyer. But it’s a good kind of risk. It’s the kind that sends your child out into the unknown to make a life for themselves; to make their own choices and their own failures. It’s part of being a good parent.

At the end of that night, after a serious phone call and hours’ worth of circling around problem after problem, I decided that there is no appropriate age a child should be given a phone. It’s less of age than a state of mind. When the parent can sum up their child and confidently say they will make mistakes, but none will be life threatening and nothing they can’t handle. Giving a phone to a child is like giving them the keys to a car. One day they must drive off into the sunset of their own life with the words of wisdom and consultation of caution to guide them.

Although if I had to decide an age, I’d say 53….