4 questions to ask before purchasing a smartphone for your child

Each child has different wants and needs, but these tips can help parents make decisions that align with their values.

 

Smartphones are everywhere, but your child or teen might not necessarily be ready for one. Children don’t magically awaken one morning equipped for smartphone ownership. All kids are unique and require unique approaches. While each child has different wants and needs — and every family has their own set of values — these 4 questions can help guide parents before deciding to purchase a smartphone for their kid.

1. Are they losing things?

Smartphones aren’t cheap, and your child is likely not ready for one if they can’t keep track of the less expensive things they already own. “I have 12 1/2-year-old twin daughters, and I'm really in the thick of this right now,” says Dr. Jerry Bubrick, senior director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute. “And so one of the things we talk about is, are they constantly losing things? Because that's not going to bode well for a phone. Have they been able to handle other electronics, almost like training wheels, leading up to a phone?” Dr. Bubrick’s ultimate point is, if a child can’t handle less important objects, they’re likely not ready for a smartphone.

2. Are they responsible?

Parents can determine whether their child is ready for a phone from other activities they engage in. “I would be looking at, are they responsible about other things in their lives independently?” Dr. Bubrick says. “Do they come home and just jump into homework? Or do they have to be reminded 17 times to do homework?” 

“When you can start showing me that you can be independent, I'm going to be able to trust that you can handle a phone."

Dr. Jerry Bubrick

Senior Director of the Anxiety Disorders Center, Child Mind Institute

 

Other good indicators of a child or teen’s smartphone readiness might come from how helpful they are around the house, or how well they hold down their first job. They need to show you that they understand how valuable a purchase a phone is, and prove they’re responsible enough to deserve it. “And so you can use that as leverage,” Dr. Bubrick says. “‘When you start coming home and doing your homework and making your bed — I’m going to know you’re ready for a phone.’”

3. Do you trust them?

“They have to earn it,” Dr. Bubrick says. “They have to show you, ‘Listen, I can handle this $500 piece of electronics in my pocket.’” Only then can a parent trust a child to give a smartphone the respect and care it requires. “‘When you can start showing me that you can be independent, I'm going to be able to trust that you can handle a phone,’" he says.

4. Are they mature enough?

“I always tell parents it's not really about the age, it's about maturity,” Dr. Bubrick adds. There’s no multiple choice maturity test. Rather, it’s about having a keen understanding of your child’s maturity level — an understanding based on how well they manage responsibility and earn your trust. ”There's a 15-year-old kid who is not very mature who really should not be having a phone, and there is a nine-year-old kid who is really mature and who can handle it,” Dr. Bubrick says. “It's less about a number and more about overall maturity.”

 

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