First Smartphone

When should parents take the digital plunge?

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Written by Cyber Expert:

Jordan Foster

Clinical Child Psychologist

When should I give my child their first smartphone?

It’s always a tricky decision to decide when kids should be given their first smartphone. Most children would have already been using a device like an iPad or tablet, but the first smartphone always feels like a big move for parents. So, when is the right time to take the plunge? 

Our advice is that around 11 to 12 is the place to start. This is due to the soon-to-happen transition into secondary school. Most kids will pester their parents for a device, and we see this as a prime opportunity to set up positive structure and boundaries around technology. When kids are 13 to 14, they enter into a developmental stage where they are driven to push boundaries and be more autonomous. So capturing kids just prior to this helps us set our rules when kids are more receptive and willing to comply with them.  

When giving kids their first device, we have some major do’s and don’ts. Here are our Top 4 tips on giving your child their first smartphone.

Access. Not Ownership

One of the mistakes parents often make when giving their child their first device is exactly that… they give their child their first device. Parents often forget that when venturing into the world of kids and phones, they don’t have to hand over a device and that’s that. Just like you wouldn’t just let your child own a car and start driving it, we shouldn’t just handover a device and let kids use it.

Parents should start with very small bursts of allowing their child to use the device. Parents should still ‘own’ the device, and provide access to the device for their child. Don’t allow the child to keep it. It’s not to stay in their possession. A child’s first device should be about access, not ownership.

Use access to a device as a way to reinforce responsibility

When parents provide children with first access to a device, you will be capturing that child in a moment of high motivation and excitement. This provides parents with a perfect opportunity to capitalise on a child’s enthusiasm for their device in order to reinforce positive digital behaviors.

So, for example, parents can give their child access to the device for 1 hour per week. Start almost ridiculously small! Then, when your child is showing you appropriate digital behaviors, such as openly communicating with you about what they’re up to online and who they are speaking to, they aren’t trying to bypass your settings and controls, and they are refraining from having digital tantrums (which can be tricky!), then you can allocate them more time on their device! Take the opportunity to let them know that that’s great behavior, and that because they are behaving so well they are demonstrating to you that they are responsible enough to have more time on their device.

Access to the device can be used as an invaluable tool in promoting positive technology habits. Parents will miss this opportunity if they give immediate ownership of the device to their child.  

Start positive cyber safety practices early

A child’s first access to a smartphone marks an important point in a family’s cyber safety journey. This means that it is essential that the household is now adopting strong, positive cyber safety rules and routines. Take our word for it- it’s easier to set up good practices at the start then trying to implement them later when the tech-use has gone rogue!

Take the opportunity to normalize open communication about cyber safety in your home. Decide on how you’re going to supervise your child’s online activity (eg. are you going to have co-access to their social media accounts?), and let your child know. Set screen time limits and off-times. We suggest during this process, you follow our ‘Setting up a Cyber Safe Home’ checklist, following our three key steps of Control Access, Setting Boundaries, and Openly Communicate. 

Use parental control tools

Prior to having their first device, kids generally will not try and bypass their parents manual security settings. However, developmentally kids become more curious and intrigued with rules and (pushing) boundaries at the age of 10, and they also start to prioritise their peer relationships over their parents (if you have a 10/11 year old, you’ve probably noticed they don’t idolise you as much as they did when they were younger!).

Because kids are so influenced by their friends at this developmental stage, online peer pressure will become a big part of their lives. Even though you’d told them that they’re not allowed to use Tik Tok, their friends might pressure them into using it. Next thing you know your child has gone viral on Tik Tok with a secret video they took of you complaining about your boss (not a made up story). Parental control tools will help you fight against this pressures, by blocking access to apps and games that you don’t want your child accessing, no matter the peer pressure they are receiving.  

Furthermore, parental control tools are vital during this time, for the primary purpose of acclimatising your child to them! Parental control tools will be your saviour when kids are 13 and 14. Using them at 10 or 11 however means that kids won’t fight you about them, it’ll just be the norm for them. You can then set up your rules so that access to their first device also means that they will have to stick to the restrictions enforced by the parental control tool, which they will do willingly due to their enthusiasm over access (not ownership) of their first device! 

Further information

Family Zone Insights

We’ve partnered with our friends at Family Zone to offer parents free access to Family Zone Insights.

Setting a digital agreement

Ever feel like you and your kids just aren’t on the same page when it comes to things like how much screen-time they should have?

Cyber Safety Parenting Quiz

A safety rating for your family and useful hints and tips on areas that you can focus on.

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