8 Tips for Deciding When to Introduce a Phone to Your Child

Believe it or not, your baby is growing up. And pretty soon, they’ll be begging you for a phone — are you ready? Getting their own phone is a rite of passage as much as it is a practical tool. Prepare for the day your child asks for a phone with these eight tips. Afterward, you’ll feel confident, and your child will feel empowered with your phone introduction plan.

1. Consider Whether Your Child Follows Directions Well

Are you constantly battling your child or are they an excellent listener? A primary driver to deciding whether they’re ready for their own kid’s phone is their ability to follow directions. As with any responsibility, following instructions with safety in mind is paramount. If you have concerns about the device being used within your given boundaries, you may want to pump the brakes. 

If your child follows directions well, you may be ready to talk about phones. Discuss what responsible phone usage looks like for your family. Consider trialing their skills by allowing them to use your phone for brief, supervised periods. If they do well, chances are they’re ready.  

2. Assess Your Child’s Ability to Be Trusted

Does your child do a great job watching their younger sibling while you cook dinner? Or is the living room chaos once you return from popping a roast in the oven? Simple tasks that require trust can be a leading indicator if your child is ready for bigger, more complex responsibilities. 

When you’re constantly exasperated about your child’s inability to follow through, take note. Their age may have you thinking they are ready for a phone. But if they can’t be trusted with the small stuff, it’s unlikely they are going to be successful with serious responsibilities. To help them prepare for their future phone, give them small challenges like feeding the dogs. With repeated successful follow-through, you may be ready to resurrect the conversation. 

3. Determine Whether Your Child Can Be Relied on Not to Break It 

Kids are notoriously rough on, well, everything. Although most toys and kids’ devices are designed to take a beating, you want their phone to survive. Scan your child’s room and play area. How have their toys, clothes, and furniture fared with them at the helm? If you’re staring at a pile of broken and busted items, it may be time to reconsider. 

If your kid has been careful with their toys and your home, they may be ready for something more fragile. To test their careful hand, lend them an old phone or tablet. Have them bring it with them just as they would their phone. At the end of a week-long trial period, see how they’ve done. If the device is still intact, your child may be ready.

4. Monitor Current Screen Behavior — and How Limits Are Treated

Your child’s experience with screens is vastly different from your own. Remember, when you were a kid, you had to wait for Saturday morning cartoons to come on. Today, cartoons, and all other viewing options, are on-demand, anytime, anywhere. This convenience has made waiting nearly obsolete and screen time opportunities plentiful. How much time is your kid spending in front of the screen?

No matter how many minutes they’re in front of a screen, take note of how they respond to limits. If they have a hard time accepting that screen time is over, it may be too soon for a phone. Instead, spend time reinforcing the screen limit. Once that’s mastered, it’ll be easier to manage screen time on their new phone.

5. Have a Conversation About Responsibility, Expectations

Aside from helping feed the family pet, it’s likely that this is your child’s first taste of responsibility. Managing a device or a pet is different from managing one’s toys. There are real consequences to mismanagement. When you have a calm moment, chat with your child about the privilege and responsibility of their potential phone. 

There are several topics you should cover. The first is managing the device itself —  charging it, keeping track of it, and making sure it stays safe and dry. Second, is the actual usage of the phone — understanding basic use and etiquette. Lastly, and arguably most important, is what activities are done on the phone. Here’s where you set boundaries around internet use, texting, and social media. 

6. Educate Your Child About Phone, Internet Risks, and How to Manage Them

A phone offers a whole world of opportunities to your child. It provides them with a wealth of information and the ability to connect with others. Unfortunately, a great deal of it can be risky, and it isn’t always easy to tell if something is unsafe. 

Most phones offer parental setting options that can help you limit what access your child has to the device. Some wireless carriers, like Gabb Wireless, offer phones with more simplified features. These phones can help your kid get used to the responsibility of a phone while reducing the risks. Even if you choose to provide your child a phone with fewer access or features, your work doesn’t end there. It’s still important to educate them on appropriate internet, social media, and texting usage.

7. Agree on a Usage Plan

If all signs are pointing toward choosing a phone for your child, it’s also time for a usage plan. Although you can set limits on the phone itself, establishing ground rules for the phone is essential. You and your partner should discuss the boundaries between the phone and child, before discussing it with your child. Coming together from a united perspective can help start the conversation on the right foot. 

Start the discussion about phone use expectations when everyone is in the right mindset. Beginning this talk after a recent dispute or right before bed can make the conversation more challenging than necessary. Listen to your child first, and offer insight based on the desired parameters. Once you’ve shared, agree on the usage plan and how you’ll check in to make sure it’s being followed. 

8. Give Your Child the Opportunity to Manage Their Phone

Now that you’ve taught your child about safe phone usage and established a plan, it’s smooth sailing, right? Not always. While it’s easy to parent somewhere between overprotective and casual, one fact remains — kids need a chance to be independent. Letting them gain some of that much-needed independence with their first phone is no different. 

You’ve laid the groundwork with your child and how they can safely use their phone. Resist the temptation to badger your kid and let them have a sense of individuality with their new device. Hold up your end of the bargain and check-in based on the usage plan you established together. 

Your kid’s first phone is a big deal, for them and you. With careful planning, education, and the right tech, your first foray into technology with your child can be low-stress. Establish a phone usage plan based on trust and your kid may just surprise you with how responsible they are. You can feel confident that you’re teaching them safe tech use while introducing them to tools they’ll use for life.