Today I would like to explore the topic What’s the right age to get a phone. But I will concentrate more on child’s first smartphone or whether it needs such a device at all. Asking this question always opens our minds to a group of additional ones – how to protect my kid from internet; or what will be the effects on my child behavior; or is my child staying late to play on his smartphone instead of going to bed; and many more
I remember my first mobile phone. You certainly too. For a long time, I wondered whether I needed one or not. Do I have to be constantly reachable? When I had one, I used it almost daily. I argued at that time that it was important for me as a freelancer, as well as all other progressive businessmen, to be at the forefront. After all, I wanted to be successful in my job. But this is you and me. We received our first smartphones when we were grown-ups and we used them mainly for business and serious calls.
But for modern kids’ things are different. They do not need the smartphone for work. They use it to interact with their friends, to play games, to search the web and to explore the world. And usually, not having a smartphone is considered as to be excluded from the group and seen as old-fashioned. Surely it is important for you that your child grows up well and confident, finishes school, learns a profession and becomes a respected member of the society. And having or not a smartphone can somehow influence this.
Well, let us consider that you say to your 7-year-old child, it would not get its first smartphone in the next few years. Perhaps not before the age 12 or 13. Surely your child will argue that all the others have one. But let’s look at the numbers: per the results of a survey (BITKOM, children and youth 3.0) already one fifth of the 6 to 7-year-old children have smartphones. In a class of 30 students, these are 6 children. Well, that´s not “all of them”, but somehow this line of argumentation of your child is probably familiar to you. Even if you are not impressed by this, you will continue to deal with the subject. Inevitably because your child will remind you of it daily.
So perhaps you think, why not let my kid be part of this modern environment? You know how easy and playful you learn new things as a child. So why move everything to a later date? In addition, in every modern job it is obligatory to be able to deal with numerous digital medias and programs. Computers, Internet, mobile phones, smartphones, social media and many more must be known. Even in schools, there are already laptop classes in which children are introduced to media use at a young age. By knowing that, you may start wondering if you encourage your child too little if you prohibit the use of smartphones, or even if this is preventing it from succeeding later in his career.
A further point is that the older your child becomes the more peers have such a device. At the age of 12 to 13 years, smartphones have a spread of 85 % as standard equipment (BITKOM, children and youth 3.0). They use it to chat to plan arrangements and to ask questions to Google.
I know from my daily practice that children and young people who do not have a smartphone are more concerned and are struggling to maintain their circle of friends. Usually appointments, childcare visits and even learning groups are organized through chats. And this information is denied to children and young people who do not own such a device. It is easier to post the information into a social group and spread it to your classmates and friends. But If the kid does not own a smartphone, then he is excluded and will not be invited.
Let us take another small trip: One of the basic human needs is the desire to belong to a group. Our most original group is the family, followed by friends, school, sports club and many more. The American psychologist Abraham Maslow presents a hierarchy of needs: as the most important, he calls the satisfaction of our physiological needs like hunger, followed by security, which is directly related to the satisfaction of the social needs of group membership. Already small babies build up bonds in their first months of life. It allows them to belong to their family and assures them survival. When the little ones are a few months old, they cry when the mom goes out of the room and calm down when she comes back. In the most basic sense, belonging to a group means survival. That´s why it is so important for children to have what their best friend has and to feel like “being part of the herd”.
Perhaps you think when you forbid your child’s first smartphone: Is my child then excluded from his friends, from his class? I do not mean that this is the sole criterion. You can strengthen your child to be different. Nevertheless, the share of young smartphone users will rise, which is foreseeable. With all the new technologies coming daily, it will be hard for you to prevent your kid from using them. It is very hard for a child to understand why he should be different from the others.
I consider it impossible to give a general age-recommendation for the use of smartphones. Ultimately the personality and development of your child is the important factor. If you wanted to have a concrete and fixed answer to the question What’s the right age to get a smartphone, you may be disappointed as it depends on the kid and the parents. I can only give the recommendation that 7 should be the earliest age to get a smartphone for your kid. Until the age of 12 or 13 you should teach him how to use and handle the new technologies. To explain him about his “digital identity” management in internet. So, starting early will give you more time to teach and learn about virtual risks and possibilities.