Should You Buy a Smartphone for Your Child?

Posted on February 6, 2016 · Posted in Analysis and Opinion
Kids with smartphone

Should you? Not without first understanding the implications.

This question derives from a real life situation, which happens a lot: a kid approaches a parent asking for a smartphone. Please? Pretty please?? All the other kids have them!

I’ve heard of six year olds popping the request, and parents in our society of abundance are all too likely to give in. But a smartphone is not a toy; it is a supercharged technology powerhouse, with incredible potential for both good and evil. It’s not exactly like giving a loaded gun to a kid, but it merits some serious thought. After all, we grown-ups have let technology creep up on us in the nineties and paid dearly with problems like the erosion of work/life balance and email overload; and email is just a tiny fraction of what a smartphone can do.

There are many pros and cons; here is a sample you should consider.

Why give your child a smartphone?

  • Letting your child get used to the latest technology early will give them the skills they will certainly need to leverage the technological world they inherit and to be ready for successful careers. I’d prefer them to build their own devices like we used to in my youth, but that’s not going to happen…
  • Some apps are actually educational – if you can guide the kid to use the right ones.
  • Once they have a phone, you are in a better position to stay in touch with them when they’re out of your sight (through admittedly the phone needn’t be smart for that).
  • Lastly, do check the allegation that all the other kids have one: if it’s true, as may well be the case, being the only kid without may have serious social implications.

Why NOT give your child a smartphone?

  • A young child could easily get sucked into over-use of the device, at the expense of other important activities (I’d say reading, if there still is such a thing, and certainly face to face interaction with family and peers). The portable marvels can easily become addictive, and younger kids may lack the self-control (and awareness) to keep sober.
  • A mobile device places all the risks of the Internet at the kid’s fingertips, and farther from parental supervision. In addition to exposure to inappropriate content, it exposes the child to criminals and predators, while giving the latter easy access to the user’s location and trust.
  • The high cost of the phone is certainly a consideration – not only the initial purchase but the replacement when the device is broken or lost, a likely enough occurrence.

So – what is the answer?

Obviously, in the end the young person will have a smartphone; the key question is at what age. It’s hard to define a hard cutoff, but one good criterion is that the kid should be mature enough to use the device responsibly and safely; some say 16 is a good ballpark figure. An excellent idea in this respect is to let the teenager work to earn the device’s price, thus proving and earning the responsibility.

Once you do permit the device, there are mobile payment plans and applications that allow you to limit use patterns and mitigate risks; take a good look at those. And of course, hold a good discussion with the kid about setting limits, what is permitted and what to avoid.