Employee & Community Health

Is your child ready for a smartphone?

3/30/2017 by Dr. Angela Mattke

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"Can I have a smartphone? All my friends have them!" Sound familiar? If your child is clambering for a smartphone, here are some tips to help you determine if they're ready for the responsibility and for setting up guidelines. 

Keep in mind that you can give your child a cell phone, which is just a device for making calls and taking photos. A smartphone has internet access, which presents parents with a whole different set of issues. 

What age is the right age? 

A smartphone is a powerful communication and media-production tool for creating texts, images and videos that can be posted on the internet with the tap of a key. As you make your decision, keep in mind your child's maturity, their sense of responsibility and ability to follow rules at home and school. You know your child best. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Do they do what they say they will or show up on time? 
  • Do they need to be in touch for safety reasons? 
  • Would easy access to friends help them socially?
  • Will they stick to limits such as minutes and types of apps? 
  • Will they be able to use the phone responsibly, such as not texting while driving? 

If you don't feel your child is ready, you can say, "No, not yet." Then work with your child to develop the skills to handle a smartphone. 

Once you've said, 'Yes.'

If you've given the go-ahead for a smartphone, it's time to have a serious conversation with your child about using it. You'll want to go over your expectations, boundaries and consequences if they're breached, including:

  • Rules for texting, calling, pictures, app downloads; this includes holding to your child's school rules, as well
  • Your data plan
  • What happens if the phone is lost, stolen or broken

Before you hand over the device, you may want to have your child play Common Sense Media's Digital Compass, an online educational game to walk them through how using their device in certain ways can affect their relationships and future. To ensure you're all on the same page, consider creating a Family Media Plan, which as been developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

You'll also want to protect your child and ensure they're sticking to the rules by: 

  • Setting parental controls for things such as apps, privacy restrictions, etc. 
  • Monitoring text and video posting, social media posting

If this feels like "snooping" or invasion of your child's privacy, keep in mind that children as young as 5th grade have been found sexting, which is the sending of naked photos and sexual comments to each other. 

When rules get broken

As a parent, your first reaction may be to take the phone away. This is when it's really helpful to have set agreed-upon rules and the consequences for breaking them. You may want to consider consequences of varying severity, based on the infraction. For example: 

  • First-time offense
  • Your child tells you about it (before you discover it)
  • Repeat offense

You can find additional practical tips and recommendations on Common Sense Media's website at the American Academy of Pediatric's site

Dr. Angela Mattke is a general pediatrician in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM) at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, She is also host of Mayo Clinic's interactive FacebookLive show called, #AskTheMayoMom, where she discusses and answers audience questions about common pediatric health topics. You can follow her on Twitter at @DrAngelaMattke. For more information about pediatric health topics, follow @mayoclinickids on Twitter.