The Great Debate: Should you Buy your Tween a Smartphone?

By Amy Thetford

It’s a common question and one everyone has a different answer to. Some decide to give their child a phone as young as age 4 or 5. Others would prefer to shield their child from technology, and all its potential dangers, for the entirety of their childhood. 

Many, like me, opt to find a good sweet spot right in the middle.

Before we get started, let’s get some things straight. I’m just a mom trying to make the best choices for my children, no different than anyone else. I won’t pretend I’m some walking, talking, fount of wisdom. After all, my oldest is just barely 11. Though I have four kids, I’m still pretty green when it comes to parenting tweens. We did decide, however, to give our son a smartphone for his eleventh birthday this year.

Why did we do this? Isn’t he too young? 

Many would say yes. 

Well, today I’m going to walk you through our decision-making process AND the steps we are taking to keep our son safe online.

What factors did we consider?

This wasn’t an overnight decision. This was the culmination of months of back-and-forth between my husband and me. We considered this from every angle. Lots of communication had to happen before we were confident we’d made the right choice.

We thought long and hard about the reasons why we would want him to have a phone. And the reasons why we wouldn’t. 

Gotta say, there were pretty convincing arguments on both sides.

On the one hand, we want him to learn how to use technology under careful supervision. We don’t want him to enter the “real world” at 18 with no clue as to how to stay safe online. We believe sheltering him, thereby making technology a “forbidden fruit”, will only increase the chance that he’ll take unnecessary risks without fully understanding the consequences. 

But on the other hand, isn’t he just too young? Why does a kid need a cell phone? There are so many ways to get into trouble with one. Plus, he should be playing outside, not staring at a screen all day.

I believe these are the thoughts most every parent has when deciding if and when to allow their child to have a smartphone. I don’t think we were alone in the turmoil we faced when making this decision.

What were the reasons we ended up saying yes?

One, as I mentioned above, was the fact that we want our son to know how to use technology safely and proficiently. We live in a digital world. Our kids are going to need to know how to navigate technology, both personally and professionally, in order to succeed once they leave our homes. As with all things, we think this is best taught with open and honest communication, plenty of practice, and the space to make mistakes in a safe environment. 

Two, we moved across the country this year. This was the best decision for our family, but it doesn’t mean we don’t miss our loved ones left behind. Our son having his own phone allows him to keep in touch with friends and family, no matter how far away they may be. That’s the beauty of technology.

Three, he’s at an age where he’s beginning to play in our neighborhood with friends and participate in drop-off activities. I’m not entirely comfortable leaving him ANYWHERE I won’t be unless I know for a fact he has a way to get in touch with me or my husband. We are always cautious when it comes to where we allow him to go and who we allow him to spend time with. However, a situation may arise where he needs one of us. We always want him to have that choice. 

Ultimately, our reasons are individual to our family, and yours for (or against) allowing your child to have a smartphone may be entirely different. What’s important is that you communicate with your partner and your child and you make a decision that’s right for YOUR family.

Our choice may not necessarily be your choice – and that’s okay!

We did what we felt was best for our child. There is no one-size-fits-all answer here. You know best and we are here to support you, whatever you decide.

Now, onto the nitty-gritty. Let’s discuss safety.

Let’s talk about our favorite free tool to keep our child safe online!

One thing that helped in the decision-making process was knowing we’d have a way to monitor his phone and set limits where necessary. 

We’ve chosen to use Google Family Link to track his app and web history, monitor (and set limits for) when he’s allowed on his phone, and even track his location if ever needed. The best part about Google Family Link – it’s completely free!

Our son is completely aware that we are keeping track of what he’s doing online. We’ve been honest about that from the start. We talk regularly about safety. We talk about the risks that come with access to the internet. We talk about rules and consequences. We talk about the need for trust and respect and how that goes both ways. We trust him and he respects our rules. Should that change, then his phone privileges will be limited or taken away. He’s got lots of time to learn. And that’s exactly why we think getting him a phone for his eleventh birthday was the right choice (for our family). 

He’s very much still a kid, in every sense of the word. He’s just learning to be a technology-savvy (and safe!) kid, and that’s our goal!

We’d love to hear from you! What age did your child get their first phone? What factors played a role in that choice? If you could go back, would you choose differently? If so, why?

Blogger and writer for hire, Amy Thetford empowers women to make the most of their time, energy, and budgets with actionable advice from a mom in the trenches. See more of what she’s got to say at www.realtalkwithamy.com