When Is the Right Age to Give a Kid a Cellphone?
The first time Xavier Watch handled a cellphone or a computer he had just turned 4. Within weeks, he was browsing the Web on his father’s iPad and later his father’s iPhone, setting up his own music playlist and playing educational games.
Now that Xavier is 5, his father is considering getting him his own smartphone.
“I know it’s crazy, because what kid doesn’t have a cellphone these days,” says Victor Watch, a graphic designer. “On the other hand he is really young. But his first tech experience has been with a tablet, an iPad, and he’s demonstrated such a high skill level with it, that I think he might just be ready for his first cellphone soon.”
While 5 may still, in the eyes of many, be a bit young for a cellphone, the debate is one that all parents have nowadays: What is the appropriate age for a child to have a phone, especially one that can be used for video messaging and unfettered access to the Internet and social media?
The average age at which kids get their first phones has declined steadily during the past decade, according to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and ongoing research by one of the study’s authors.
According to Pew, the typical American gets a first cellphone at about 12 or 13 — that’s down from 16 in 2004.
In 2004, 45 percent of people between ages 12 and 17 had cellphones. By 2010, it was 75 percent.
“On the surface, these numbers are self-explanatory,” says Scott Campbell, a University of Michigan communications professor and coauthor of Pew’s youth phone usage study. “More children are getting cellphones, and they’re getting them younger. But what we should consider when looking at this increase in phone ownership and usage among children is that it parallels cellphones being able to do more, being useful for more than just phone calls.”