Your Child’s First Smartphone: A Guide to the Proper Age, Phone Type and Parental Controls

Many parents have been in close quarters with their kids for the past year and a half. And I mean Zoom-school-at-the-kitchen-table close. Now, as students across the country prepare to return to school full time in person, many parents of elementary- and middle-school students are wondering if they should send their kids off with a phone.

A handful of parenting questions are top of mind: What is the appropriate age for children to get a phone? Are we getting the phone for the kids—or because we feel a desire to always stay connected? How do we value their social pressures to own one? What kind of phone should we get them? And what parental controls are available to keep them safe?

Moms and dads, I’m going to break this down for you.

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Determining the right age

“What we know is that there is not a magic age for when to get a child a smartphone, but by age 11, 53% of kids have their own smartphone,” said Kelly Mendoza, a vice president at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group focused on responsible media use. (The figure comes from a 2019 survey the organization conducted of more than 1,600 people between the ages of 8 and 18 in the U.S.) “Sixth grade is a big transition for kids, when they start middle school and start to have more independence,” she said.

Even though middle school is a turning point for many parents in making the leap, Ms. Mendoza said age isn’t as important as a child’s maturity. She said parents can assess their children’s phone readiness by asking themselves the following questions:

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