A friend of mine has two teenage daughters with smartphones. One is 14 and the other is 13, and by his estimation, they were late to the smartphone game.
Some kids get smartphones while in their pre-teen years — 10, 11 and 12. Add my 11-year-old daughter to that list.
To be honest, I fought my wife on this decision. I lost. My wife was convinced our daughter was ready, and I was on the fence.
To be even more honest, I think my reservations were more rooted in the fact that my baby is growing up too fast, and I’m trying (unsuccessfully) to stop that.
I’ve learned a lot of things about what makes a kid ready for this level of responsibility in the short time our daughter’s had a smartphone.
Let’s face it: this is a big test for a kid. To have that kind of power – a super computer with the ability to connect to the world beyond our small family unit – is kind of scary.
So, if you’re considering getting a smartphone for your teen or pre-teen, here are my recently tested guidelines:
No Magic Age. I’ve said this before in other columns about kids and technology, so of course the same holds true here. Every kid is different, with varying abilities, and certainly different maturity levels.
My daughter is smart. In fifth grade she wrote a poem in which she described herself as “odd and responsible.” So yeah, any kid who can self-reflect and come away with “responsible” is probably ready to have the smartphone conversation.
Data Costs Money. We explained to her that data costs money, and that every time she played a game she was using up our shared data.
We stopped for lunch a few weeks ago and she immediately got on the restaurant’s WiFi instead of 4G to watch a YouTube video. Smart kid, but, we also had the watching-videos-on-your-phone-while-having-lunch-with-your-family conversation, too.
Be Mentally Prepared. I’m prepared for the worst to happen. She may lose it. She may drop it down a well. I’ll be “understanding” (if only on the outside). This is tough for a control freak like me, but I know that we all do stupid things with our phones (see my earlier column on dropping phones in port-a-potties).
If she breaks it, she’ll learn an important lesson. And better she learn it now, in a safe space, than when she’s on her own.
Know Your Options. When we walked into the phone store, the first words out of my mouth were “We need a phone for our daughter and I don’t want to go broke.”
The sales rep laughed. He’d clearly had this conversation before, and showed us a Samsung device that had most of the same features as a Galaxy S7, but for a lot less money. So if she does lose the phone, I won’t lose my mind.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.