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When Should Kids Get Their First Phones? 2024 Guide

Deciding when to give your child their first phone will depend on their maturity level, situation, and trust level. Here’s how to know if they’re ready.

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      At What Age Should Your Child Get Their First Phone?

      Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer for when you should give your child their first phone. Instead, there are many factors to consider — from your child’s maturity level and ability to limit screen time to the risks of cyberbullying, adult content, scammers, hackers, and online predators. 

      But despite the risks, parents and caregivers are facing more pressure than ever to give children mobile phones at younger ages. According to Common Sense Media [*]:

      By age 11, more than half of all American children have their own smartphones — but is this too young? 

      With unlimited access to the internet, children can struggle to handle the responsibilities of owning a smartphone. The fallout can impact your child’s personal safety, mental health, and social development. 

      In this guide, we’ll consider the risks of owning a smartphone, show you how to set up new smartphones for different ages, and help you make the right decision for your child.


      What Are the Risks of Giving Your Child a Smartphone?

      There are plenty of positive reasons for your children to own smartphones. For instance, they can access educational apps, stay in touch with you and their friends, and you can even track their locations, if needed.

      However, giving a child a smartphone at a young age also has plenty of downsides. Peer pressure for young kids and teenagers to keep up with their friends makes decisions around technology tough for parents, but you have to consider what's best for your child.

      Here are nine of the major risks you should consider before giving your child a smartphone:

      Mental health issues

      Excessive cell phone use — especially smartphones with social media access — can lead to mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and addiction. 

      The U.S. surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, warned of the dangers [*]: 

      "Teens who use social media for more than three hours a day face double the risk of depression and anxiety symptoms."  

      A recent study of close to 30,000 children found that kids who got their first phones at younger ages were more likely to experience detachment from reality, anger towards others, and even suicidal thoughts [*]. 

      Distraction from schoolwork

      97% of 11- to 17-year-olds use their phones during the school day — with a median use time of 43 minutes each day [*]. At critical times when they are supposed to be focused on learning and exam preparation, almost all students are distracted by digital devices.


      In 2022, almost half of U.S. teens aged 13 to 17 (46%) experienced some form of cyberbullying [*]. Children with their own phones are particularly vulnerable to cyberbullying, as it’s challenging for parents and schools to identify and police the digital communications that take place between young people. 

      💡 Related: How To Prevent Cyberbullying: 2023 Parental Guide

      Online predators

      Arguably, the biggest concern parents have when their children use the internet is that their kids will end up in contact with online predators. These predators can manipulate young children into sending explicit content or meeting in person — putting kids in real danger.

      🛡 Protect your family with award-winning digital security — for free. Aura's #1-rated family safety app combines parental controls with identity theft and fraud protection for your entire family.  Try Aura for free and get peace of mind whenever your family is online.

      Adult or mature content

      The scary truth is that 54% of children first encounter pornography before they turn 13 years old [*]. As smartphones and internet access continue to be a normal part of children’s lives, it’s likely that more kids will access adult content — including sex and violence — long before their minds are mature enough to understand what they’re watching. 

      💡 Related: How To See What My Kid Is Doing Online: 5 Tools

      Online scammers and hackers

      Cybercriminals lurk in the inescapable underbelly of the internet. If your kid’s personally identifiable information (PII) is exposed, your whole family could fall prey to scams or identity theft.

      The problem is that kids constantly use the internet but rarely follow best practices for online privacy. If your kid shares too much information with a "new friend" online, they could fall victim to child identity theft

      Sexting and pressure to share photos or videos

      Sexting — the act of sending or receiving sexually explicit images, videos, or text messages — poses severe risks to young people. 

      These risky sexual behaviors can cause kids to experience anxiety and low self-esteem. However,  a greater concern is how sexting can lead to situations of sextortion, in which the predator threatens to publicly release explicit images unless the victim pays a ransom. 

      Interfering with sleep

      Digital devices cause a delay in the production of melatonin, which can make falling (and remaining) asleep more difficult. If parents don’t — or can’t — set boundaries around device use and bedtimes, most kids will use their phones when they should be sleeping. This habit will disrupt their sleep and cause them to be tired and moody at school [*].

      Excessive phone use

      A study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry found that excessive smartphone use is associated with a host of issues, including difficulties in emotional regulation, impulsivity, and impaired cognitive function, among other conditions [*]. 

      This means that, if your children are free to use smartphones without limits, they could suffer from physical and mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, shyness, low self-esteem, social anxiety, and poor eating habits.

      What Is the Best Age for a Kid To Get a Phone? 10 Questions To Ask

      There’s no “perfect age” when it comes to giving your child their first phone. Even older teens need clear limits to ensure that mobile devices don’t interfere with their developmental milestones, health, schoolwork, and social skills.

      To decide whether or not your children are ready for their own phones, start by asking these 10 questions: 

      1. Do they take public transportation or frequently travel on their own? If your child takes the bus to school or rides their bike to see friends, you may need a way to stay in contact and keep tabs on your child’s whereabouts.
      2. Are they at home alone often? If a child spends significant time alone at home, having a phone provides a quick way to contact you or other family members for anything they need. 
      3. Are they taking on babysitting or similar jobs? Taking on responsibilities like babysitting indicates a level of maturity and trustworthiness. Having a phone when they’re looking after someone else’s children could be practical for communication (and emergencies). 
      4. Are they starting to make independent plans with their friends? Whether it’s a camping trip or first date, you need to be able to trust your kids to make smart decisions. Consider if a phone will help by giving them access to you (or anyone else they may need) when embarking upon their plans.
      5. How do they handle setting limits on their current technology? Think about how your child manages current device usage to gauge their ability to handle the additional responsibility. If they show signs of addiction or bad social behavior because of too much gaming or TV, perhaps a phone is a step too far.
      6. Will they follow the rules you agree on together regarding phone use? Before you get your child a smartphone, it’s a good idea to set the ground rules. For example, you can agree to a written family device contract that sets clear expectations and limits around phone use during school, homework time, and at the dinner table.
      7. Do you trust them to come to you with problems or concerns? Open communication about the responsibilities that come with owning a phone is crucial. You must trust that your child will follow your guidelines and be honest about any issues encountered while using a smartphone.
      8. How often does your child lose things — especially expensive items? Not all kids have great organizational skills, especially if they’re younger or have some attention-deficit issues. You might not want to buy a phone for a child that tends to break or lose things. If they’re old enough to own a phone but careless with their possessions, a cheaper smartphone with a robust case could be a compromise.  
      9. How well does your child handle and understand money? Understanding the value of money is vital when it comes to owning a smartphone. Not only must they look after their handsets; kids need to also be mature and frugal with in-app purchases — or you could be on the hook for huge credit card bills.
      10. Are they able to handle minor conflicts maturely? Kids often disagree over trivial matters, from gaming chats to social media. When emotions run high, your children need to be able to handle conflicts and resolve issues with people online without causing more significant problems in their lives. 

      By considering these important questions, you’ll have a lot of useful insights to make a well-informed decision. However, you may still feel uncertain about whether your child is ready.

      If that’s the case, let’s delve deeper to help you figure out what age is best for a kid to get a phone.

      Should an eight-year-old have a smartphone? 

      In most cases, the answer is no. 

      Most experts agree that an eight-year-old child should not have a smartphone, as kids at this age are unready for the associated risks — including addiction, adult content, scams, and online predators. 

      If children this young fall victim to cyberbullying or addiction, they will struggle to handle the adverse impacts on their mental well-being, including anxiety and depression.

      Instead of a smartphone, parents should consider an alternative way to let their child stay in touch with family. A basic flip phone — or a "dumb" phone — allows communication without the distractions or internet-related risks of smartphones. 

      Should a 10-year-old have a smartphone? 

      The decision to give a 10-year-old a smartphone is more nuanced. You must carefully consider your child's specific needs, maturity, and level of responsibility. 

      According to a Nielsen report, approximately 45% of U.S. children between the ages of 10 and 12 own a smartphone and even have their own service plans [*]. 

      Owning a smartphone is a big responsibility for a 10-year-old, so parents must sit the child down and have several talks before handing over the phone. You'll need to establish clear rules, and you should closely monitor how and when your child uses the phone. If you spot any warning signs that the phone is causing problems for their health or well-being, don't hesitate to review your agreement or confiscate the device. 

      🚫 Easily block predators, cyberbullies, and adult content. Aura’s all-in-one family safety app includes parental controls that help keep your kids protected online. Learn more about how Aura keeps your family safe.

      Should a 12-year-old have a smartphone? 

      When a child moves from middle school to high school, this is generally seen as a good age to get their first smartphone.

      Most 12-year-olds are mature enough to agree to simple agreements or written rules with their parents. These kids should also be able to follow your guidelines and openly communicate any problems they have while exploring the online world. 

      However, the onus is on parents to keep kids informed about the internet's risks, and maintain regular communications around smartphone use. 

      Should teenagers have smartphones?

      In most cases, the answer is yes. 

      98% of American teens and tweens own smartphones in 2023 [*]. While peer pressure may lead some parents to buy their teens a phone sooner rather than later, the good news is that teenagers can benefit more from access to the internet than younger siblings do.

      As teens have more active lives outside of the home, smartphones let parents stay connected with their growing children. Teenagers can use apps for education, language learning, computer coding, habit tracking, and exercise to help better themselves on a daily basis. 

      On the flip side, adolescents are more likely to get addicted to online gaming or seek out risky corners of the internet, such as adult content or cryptocurrency trading. As with younger kids, clear house rules and open communication are key to keeping your teens safe with their smartphones. 

      How To Keep Your Child Safe With Their First Phone

      We no longer live in a world in which the question is if your child will have a phone, but rather when. No matter what age you give your children their first phones, there are steps you can take to ensure their safety and health.

      Here are nine ways to ensure your kids stay safe while they use smartphones:

      • Install parental controls on your child’s phone. All devices from Apple and Android come equipped with some level of parental controls that let you determine what your child can and cannot do. Third-party apps like Aura let you block specific apps or websites, set time limits, and pause the internet during homework or bedtime. 
      • Limit what apps they can install and use. It’s important to limit the apps your child can install to ensure each one is safe and age-appropriate. Start slowly by keeping only the apps and features that your child needs.
      • Create a family contract for device usage. It’s wise to set specific rules and guidelines for device usage — such as when and where they can use their phones. Include your child in the process, and have them add rules (and agree to everything) before you get the phone.
      • Charge phones overnight in a common area. Consider establishing a rule that everyone in the house must leave their phones in the kitchen or living room overnight. This is good practice for children and can help promote healthier sleeping habits.
      • Check in regularly, and watch for changes in your child's mood and behavior. It's impossible to track every click, swipe, and tap on your child's phone. However, if you feel the phone is impacting them mentally or emotionally, take immediate steps — as your child's health is always the top priority.
      • Educate them about using strong passwords. Teach your child how to create strong passwords and why it’s important to keep passwords (and other personal information) private. Additionally, explain why they shouldn’t share passwords in case their online accounts get hacked.
      • Explain what to do if they experience adult or disturbing content. While creating your family contract, chat about scenarios like encountering adult content. Prepare your kids for the risks — and set quick, practical steps so that they know how to close the app and report the issue to you. 
      • Teach them how to avoid scams and other online threats. It’s never too early to educate your child about identity theft. Children are the most vulnerable targets; so you should help your kids learn how to avoid online scams, such as phishing emails, phone scams, or fake websites.
      • Consider a family-focused online security solution. Aura protects your family with digital security tools — including antivirus software, parental controls, content filtering, and device security. Try Aura for free and see how it keeps your family safe online.

      💡 Related: The 10 Best Parental Control Apps for iPhones (2023)

      Smartphones Can Come With Growing Pains — Aura Can Help

      There's no "perfect age" for children to own their first cell phones. Every child develops differently; and only parents can make the decision, depending on the child's maturity level, responsibility, and individual needs. 

      Research typically indicates that older is better. However, it’s important to know that smartphones expose kids of all ages to risks — including scams, adult content, addiction, and predators.

      If you want the best protection and peace of mind for your children, you need Aura’s family safety app. As the #1-rated identity theft protection platform, Aura’s suite of digital security tools help keep your entire family safe online across all devices. 

      With Aura’s family plan, you get powerful parental controls to monitor and limit screen time, 24/7 fraud and identity theft monitoring, and advanced digital security and online privacy tools. If anyone in your family falls prey to identity theft, plan members are protected by up to $5 million in insurance coverage — along with round-the-clock support from Aura’s U.S.-based team of White Glove Fraud Resolution experts.

      Keep your entire family safe online and in real life. Try Aura free for 14 days.
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