A Broad’s Burning Question: When Is the Right Time to Get a Smartphone for my Kid?

Kyle Dyer | @kyle__dyer

At least once a month, I see a Facebook post where parents are looking for answers as to when to give their child a smartphone. One bit of advice recently got me thinking.  

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said in an interview parents should hold off as long as possible. In fact, his son and two daughters weren’t allowed to have phones until they turned 14.   

Could you imagine being the son or daughter of a tech visionary and being the last one to join the 7th grade group text?

“I don’t think there is a certain ‘right age,’” Denver therapist Jen Eichberg said. “I recommend parents consider where their kids are developmentally when considering a smartphone especially when you consider how social media will become a part of their lives.”   

Eichberg works with Denver children and teenagers who are challenged by anxiety, depression and perfectionism.

Findings from Influence Central’s 2016 Digital Trends Study show most kids get their first social media account at 11.4 years old; 39% of those kids became “social” between 10 and 12.  Eleven percent of kids were younger than ten when they activated their first social media account.  

Kids jump into social media because it’s a way for them to feel like a part of a group. So, Eichberg urges Denver parents to watch their child for any changes in self-esteem once they start using a smartphone.

“It’s really important for kids to have their pictures and posts liked,” Eichberg said. “That approval means everything to tween and teens who are trying to find ‘their tribe,’ that group of friends where they feel like they belong.”

 Eichberg says kids feel rejected if they don’t get enough likes on a picture or peers post comments that aren’t overly praising of them. That feeling, she says, can lead to anxiety and depression.

So… after hearing that, you might think Eichberg would side with Bill Gates and suggest keeping your child off smartphones as long as possible.

That’s not the case at all.

“Two or three years ago, I would say later might be better but not anymore,” Eichberg said.

She points to how most middle and high schools have adopted technology and assign and collect course work electronically.

“Kids not only use their devices for social reasons, there are group projects being organized over group text messages and homework can be accessed from smartphones,” Eichberg said.  

Denver area schools see the benefits but also the downfalls of smart phones.

East High School refers to phones as “disruptive to the educational process” in the school manual. If caught in classrooms, the phones are confiscated and parents must pick them up. That’s pretty much the norm at Denver area schools.  

Limits are also important at home. Both Eichberg and the 4th richest man in the world say set rules: no phones at the dinner table, phones should be turned off at a certain time at night, and only one tech at a time (i.e., don’t be texting while watching tv. It’s too much stimulation). You know what? Those sound like good rules for all of us to follow.