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When is my child ready for their first phone?

Technology changes fast. Twenty years ago, only a handful of adults had a mobile phone – but two decades on the digital time spectrum is equivalent to the Jurassic age and modern-day. Trying to explain dialup to a pre-teen will elicit the same wild-eyed bewilderment as “a stegosaurus was as big as this house”.

So, that leaves parents in 2020 with a conundrum: when do I give my child their first phone? Is it a question of them reaching a certain age, or is it a case of them showing a level of maturity? We can’t go off what our parents did because two tin cans connected by string isn’t really the same.

Like most aspects of parenting, there are no hard-and-fast rules for when a child is ready for the responsibility of a mobile – but that doesn’t mean you’re without help. We’ve scouted the web to bring you a step-by-step manual for solving this digital dilemma.

Step 1: Is your child ready?

Understanding when a child is ready for a mobile phone is a mix of factors, including your child’s level of responsibility and whether their friends have got one. Raising Children Australia is a great resource for working out whether your child should have a phone, offering thought-provoking prompts like:

  • Is your child responsible in other ways? For example, does your child look after their belongings?
  • Does your child talk to you about things that worry them?
  • Does your child understand about not giving strangers their phone number, not clicking on internet links, and blocking calls from people they don’t know or don’t want to speak to?
  • Does your child feel excluded from conversations and events with friends because they’re the only one without a mobile phone

Step 2: Understand the pros and cons

Pros

  • Emergencies – You’ll provide them with a tool for contacting you or another trusted adult quickly if they ever feel unsafe.
  • Connection – The ability to communicate with their friends outside of school and keep up with current events and media.
  • A lesson in responsibility – This could be an opportunity to teach your child about looking after their things.

Cons

  • Cyberbullying – A phone may unfortunately open another route of communication to bullies.
  • Distraction – A 2018 study reported that people check their phones every 12 minutes during their waking hours. Making rules about your child’s usage is a good way to help them avoid developing negative habits.
  • Unrestricted access to the internet – It’s easy to take a wrong turn online and, while there is software available to provide parental controls, there’s a possibility your child will be presented with inappropriate content.

Step 3: Talking to your child

If you’ve decided your child could use a mobile phone, it’s important to think about how you can help them use it responsibly. Sit down with them and set rules about usage, like how much time they are allowed for social media each day and when they need to put their phone away. Again, Raising Children Australia has a useful article on just what responsible mobile phone use is – we recommend you give it a read.

Step 4: Choosing the right first phone

  • Affordability: Mobiles can be expensive, and kids can be…. less than careful. Thankfully, there are many phones in the market that tick the boxes for as little as $89. All the phones we’ve listed here are under $600, with the more costly devices recommend for older, more responsible teens.
  • Durability: Accidents happen to the best of us, so there’s a good chance your kid’s device will eventually end up dropped, scratched, or wet. Consider purchasing a phone case and screen protector to add an extra layer of security.
  • Payment: It’s generally recommended that you start with a prepaid plan that gives you a set amount of phone calls, texts, and data per month. This will help prevent your child from overusing their phone and going over the monthly limit.

Best mobiles for kids: Our handset recommendations

First-ever phone: Nokia3310

5

$89 from JB Hi-Fi

Why it’s good: Are you nostalgic, because we are. This little pocket rocket retro mobile allows kids to talk, text, play snake… and that’s about it. While it can connect to the internet, the experience is understandably basic, which may be ideal for younger children.

First-ever phone: Opel Mobile SmartFlip

6

$179 from JB Hi-Fi

Why it’s good: Flip phones still exist – who knew! The Opel Smartflip is slim and affordable, with big buttons and just the right amount of internet capability (popular messaging platform WhatsApp comes pre-installed). It’s durable, too – so you don’t have to worry about it being damaged easily.

First smartphone: VIVO Y12

4

$199 from JB Hi-Fi

Why it’s good: A great starter smartphone with a good quality rear camera and long battery life. While the hue of a handset doesn’t impact on its function, we have no doubt that it’s beautiful blue colour will bring a big smile to a small face.

First smartphone: Motorola G9 Play 64GB

2

$299 from JB Hi-Fi

Why it’s good: The perfect mobile for aspiring musos, with wireless Moto Buds included in the box. It’s also water repellent (a.k.a worry-proof) and has been described as “a good all-round Android budget phone” by Finder.

For older teens: Google Pixel 4a

1

$599 from Google Store

Why it’s good: Google have a great reputation in the smartphone market and, looking at the Google Pixel 4a, it’s not hard to see why. Small, light and packed with all the latest features – including Google Assistant – this phone has everything a teen needs.

For older teens: Samsung Galaxy A51

3

$599 from Samsung

Why it’s good: Creative kids will love the quad camera, which shoots smooth and steady just like the pros (minus the price tag of top-tier gear). As the world’s no.1 bestselling Android smartphone, you know you are getting a good deal.

Image credits

15 comments

  1. Marissa says:

    Mobile phones has become essential in our daily lives. Even kids nowadays are needing mobile phones. However, some parents are still hesitant in giving their child phones. Because, yes, there are pros and cons of having it and I think this informative write up can help parents decide on whether they’ll give their child a phone.

  2. Chris says:

    This stream of consciousness has all the appearance of being balanced but clearly treats a mobile phone as a good thing that would always be wanted by someone who was “mature”,
    “responsible”, etc etc, rather like a driver’s licence.
    What about the idea that a mobile might not be a good thing at all for a developing mind? The idea that a phone would tend to draw kids away from more intellectually demanding and creative pastimes such as reading? The idea that widespread use of mobile phones is having the effect of dumbing down a whole generation? These are much more serious “cons” of a mobile phone than superficial stuff such as whether they would lose the phone.

  3. Ross says:

    Thanks Chris, I agree with your concerns. It is now clear that Google assistant and the like are just an increadibly powerful way of profiling and influencing people and in particular kids. I can’t believe that such concerns are not covered by this article. The Noklia, with location switched off is all you should need for communication and possible emergencies.

  4. Brendon says:

    No CHILD should have a phone until they are 16. They are children. Don’t send me this crap again.

  5. Kiara says:

    In my personal opinion, the only handset listed on here should have been the Nokia 3310. Anything above that is simply reserved for a fully developed and functioning mind that won’t fall down a rabbit hole of social media obsession. Whoever wrote this article probably has an 11 year old with an iPhone 12 for God’s sake.

  6. Rora says:

    Love seeing your sentiments on here Chris and yours too Ross! My son recently broke his phone, one I had purchased for him as he has a long commute home everyday from school alone and I felt he needed to be easily contacted however, it was the type of phone that was the pitfall in my decision making. It had all the access to apps, internet etc and definitely took away from his ability to focus, be creative etc.
    He is like a different person now without it!

  7. Nigel says:

    Hi, They used to call it the Crack-Berry for a reason. With Social Media IT Companies, you are the product. They make their services designed to distract and be addictive. Technology CEO’s know this and Ban their children from social media until they are over 18…that alone must tell you something.

  8. Noal says:

    Brendan, you sound very immature. However, you are entitled to your opinion and may tell us all that you think. The bit where your intelligence came out was the last sentence. The article was part of an email. You were not required to click the more button. You chose to read it, the majority of the customers who receive these emails are capable of selecting what they want to read and ignore what they don’t.

  9. Mark says:

    Gave mine phone on there 13th birthday. They have our old phones when we updated. If they are not happy with that bad luck.
    And a small data plan so they don’t get carried away and have to learn to watch how much data they have used.

  10. Nick says:

    I have set up a cheap Android phone for my child. We allow Messenger Kids with his friends. We have locked down the phones use and website access using http://www.oeck.com to block ads and adult content as well as any sort of social media.

    What we would like to do next is set it up so there are only certain hours of the day the phone is able to work.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I have tried a different approach, and the jury is still out. I have two young daughters, and have given them older Iphones without a SIM. They use these at home or with hot spots, and can call/message all the relatives who have iphones. Take photos, use their spotify account to listen to their music, and play games more than I like. As they are using the WiFi at home, I have only certain hours they can use their devices, and block websites which consume too much of their time, and with Screen Time, can limit how long they use on apts, and if they want more it comes thru as a request. Why do I do all of this – my belief is that I can teach them how to use and be responsible with it by working with them for several years while they are young. If I wait until they are 13 to 16 years old with a Sim card, then I will have no influence. As I said the jury is out, but technology is how we live now, so I believe I should teach them how to use it as a tool, and not as a time wasting distraction.

  12. Nicole says:

    Nick there is an app called Google family where your can set usage times, how long they can use the device in a day so that once that time quota has been used up their phone locks (you can set different times and allowed time quotas for different days) and you can also lock and unlock their phone so that they can only contact and be contacted by approved numbers (my husband and I put our numbers in that section). Their phone sends notifications to yours to approve app installments and it also gives you a GPS location option. However, as great as all these options are, it stops once they turn 13 because that’s the approved age for children to have their own Google accounts. To get around that we put in a younger age.

  13. Andy says:

    We lived our lives in the absence of social media, and mobile phones for many years, it appears this was of benefit to society. Social media has a lot to answer for when it comes to our modern generations of children. It seems to me that expectations are applied upon parents to purchase mobile phones for there much loved children. Along with the “gifting” of a mobile phone to our children come items like attention deficit, subliminal social anxiety, self worth comparisons, and so many other new world burdens that young ones struggle to understand, let alone prioritise and deal with.
    The mobile phone becomes the child’s “precious” to quote from Lord of the Rings, and whilst a real parent can remove the phone from the child’s possession, all of there friends have phones to share with them. I just see so many negatives for the tiny amount of useful communication purpose they provide.

  14. V Mckay says:

    I never bought my children mobile phones.. when they were younger they didn’t require one, if they needed to contact me they used a landline, as they progressed into their teens they had the use of an older mobile. I had always told my children that I would not buy them a mobile, they would have to get a job and buy there own. 16+ is a good minimum age. But do remember most teenagers have no concept of how much these items cost to run,.This was only used if they were going out with friends and needed to get in contact with my husband and I. My children were never permitted to have a phone at school, they were there to learn not be chatting or texting on their phones to friends that were a few feet away or in another classroom. If an emergency arose, the school knew how to contact me or emergency services.
    Mobile phones are not a necessary, they are convenient for the workplace travelling etc. people are becoming to reliant on technology, landlines are being replaced by the mobile, don’t get me wrong I have several mobiles, as does my hubby, but whilst at home these are either switched off or on silent.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Thank you to the author, as a parent of a pre-teen I found the article very helpful and informative. The link to Raising Children Australia was also very useful.

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