What Is The Right Age To Get My Child A Phone?

It absolutely reeks of Judy (Judgerson, that is).

That question the pickup line moms ask you, like you’re supposed to know the answer.

And they ask it with one eyebrow up and a smirk, like they know SO MUCH more than you, when really?

They’re just trying to make themselves feel better about a snap decision they’ve made.

The judgey, uppity, pour-salt-right-into-your-mama-guilt question:

But does she really NEED a phone?

(Gag.)

The assumption is that your child isn’t OLD ENOUGH.

Her age ISN'T 13. 

Gasp.

Her BIRTHDAY hasn’t even happened yet.

And not only that?

But technology isn't a PART of your everyday life.

::

* That's my pause to give you a chance to take in the silliness of that assumption being made ... with a phone in hand.

** Or even better ... in a Facebook thread.

But if you press her on it, that mom (bless her heart), who REALLLLLY wants to give you her parenting opinion? Has no idea why she made that decision. Or what her next step is in helping her tween have a healthy relationship with technology.

She’ll point to your Facebook question about a phone for your tween, frown, and say, “Well, THAT'S the problem.”

She’ll say, “Let her stay little! Kids today (insert hand-on-heart here) are growing up much too fast.”

(Whatever that means.)

Or maybe she’ll just hold out her hand, tap her foot, and wait for you to sign her pledge.

The one that says that if you just wait till your child is 13, she'll magically just know how to be safe and smart with her phone.

And it’s true – sometimes you DO need to wait a little bit longer before getting your child a phone, but here’s the truth:

No birthday magically makes a child responsible, bully-proof, and a smart decision maker.

But on the other hand?

It’s absolutely possible to have a strong, smart, informed, and ready to have her own phone child without touching a “Wait Until 8th” Pledge.

That means that before you go deleting that Facebook post, HOPING the carpool moms didn’t see that you were considering getting your tween a phone, you need to figure out:

Is there something you – and your child – need first?

And that's what we're going to dig into today.

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That “something” you need – whether you’re just starting out here with a 4th or a 5th grader, or whether you have a tween whose already cycled through a few social media sites and group texting apps – is yes-es to FIVE questions.

But how DO you measure something as touchy-feely as readiness?

Enter … brain-based information.

Brain-based, developmentally appropriate information is like a thermometer that can show you how ready you and your child are for the “next stage” things. In this case, it simply tells you — based on what Human Development researchers have worked so hard for so long to learn — how ready is your child and your family for a phone?

In Human Development circles, we talk about developmental stages – meaning, your child is wired to learn from you at certain times.

In parenting circles, it’s usually a bit more simple: what decision is best for you, your child, and your family today?

But before you start putting ANY kind of decision into place, you need to know where you are right nowYou need to be able to answer five specific questions.

And the reason is this:

You need to know whether whatever you do to FIX your problem of worrying about your child and her impending phone is working … or whether you’re flushing your sanity down the commode.

Just say no to flushing sanity.

Think about it … you decide to spend time on:

  • Signing a Wait Until 8th Pledge. Does it actually help your child make better decisions online?
  • Nay-saying apps / phones / texting. Does it actually help you build a stronger connection with your child so that if she does see / do / try something cringe-worthy on someone else’s phone she tells you about it?
  • Keeping your child far-far-away from a phone and letting her “stay little longer” like you’ve always heard you should. Does it actually help you parent the child you have right here in front of you like you want to?

The answer may be yes, or it may be no. But here’s the deal:

If you’re going to be taking ANY time to make ANY kinds of decisions like these, it needs to translate to a measurable, tangible change. “Being in the know” or having a dozen shiny “likes” or “hearts” on your Facebook comment declaring no phones for your child anytime soon is nice, but if you’re going to be a smart savvy parent, you need to know if what you’re doing is working, or if you should cut it loose and move in a different direction.

So today? 

We’re going to take a measurement of how ready your child, you, and your family are to get a phone for her … and you’ll have a starting point to compare with a few months from now.

*** WARNING: 13th Birthday Trap ahead ***

Now, this might seem a little scary if you’ve been afraid to look.

But before you freak out (!) and click-away-real-quick because YOU’VE HEARD THAT BEFORE and IDENTITY CRISIS: you’ve nodded your head in agreement ...

Read on or watch the video below. I’ll show you how to quickly grab the answers you need, how to understand your and your child’s readiness, and what all this means once you figure it all out.

In this article you'll learn:

  • What the 13th Birthday Trap isand how to avoid getting all tangled up in it.
  • What could possibly go wrong with things like the “Wait Until 8th Pledge” oh-so-very-many things and we're going to unpack them ALL.
  • And how to really know if your child is ready for le phoneyou'll need the answers to five questions.

So if you're a parent of a school-age child ...

Who has a device or will be getting one soon ...

I'm just going to say this:

You NEED this information.

So first, grab your checklist made specifically for moms of new(ish) digital kids and then, let's dig in.

Today we're answering the question:

What is the right age to get your child a phone?

Is THIS the right time or not?

There's actually a lot that needs to go into this decision. It's about way more than age. The 13th Birthday Trap is the WHY behind how this part got a 'lil muddled for you. 

The 13th Birthday Trap is the myth that the best move for you as far as your child and her phone are concerned is waiting until she's 13, handing her a phone and a cell phone contract, and trying to start conversations about rules and expectations and safety all at once.

Now, obviously, this will be just too much information to take in at a time.

But there's something else that backfires here, too.

And as a Human Development geek, I can't wait to share this part with you — because it's a parenting game changer.

THIS is what I have a Bachelors of Science in and what I thought was so fascinating that I continued to study it while I got my Masters in Education. Yep, total Human Development geek here and proud of it!

But hear this and you just might be intrigued, too ... 

Human Development theorists have figured this out:

You can teach your child most easily AND effectively if you’re teaching her when she's developmentally ready to learn from you.

This is HUGE!

You actually have a chance to grasp at specific teachable times when your child is literally WIRED to learn from you. And listen to you. Because she WANTS to.

I want to show you a quote from a Human Development theorist who shows this in a dense, solid way that REALLY explains the difference between starting the phone "stuff" with a 9-11 year old compared to with a 13 year old. 

This is a slide from the presentations that I give. I'm so excited to share it with you here!

developmental stages for tweens.png

So what Dr. Pickhardt is saying is that there's not a single thing wrong with your teen when she turns 13 and seemingly-suddenly wants a bit of independence.

In fact, you want her to do this! It means that she's well on her way to becoming an independent young adult.

#NoFailureToLaunchHere

BUT.

If you want to influence the kind of relationship she ends up having with technology

And you do! No one knows your family's values better than you do! —

You have to start the discussions at a younger age. 

In order to do this, you have to grasp at the time when she's literally developmentally wired to listen to you.

Read this, it's important.

:: Caveat ::

If you have a 12 or 13 year old and you haven't had these conversations yet, I don't want you to stress and I promise that I'm not going to leave you hanging!

Every time I talk to a group about this topic, I always have someone who comes up to me after my talk ends, puts her hand on my arm, and says, "Oh no, I think I might have waited too long!"

If this sounds like you, two things:

1. This is NOT your fault! I'm going to explain to you how you got here, and why you really waited right below.

2. And two, you're NOT too late! You can start this anytime. It's just easier if you start earlier.

If you haven't already done so, be sure to grab your checklist. I offer NINE meaningful places to start!

One way that you got here, I.E: one way that this age 13 myth got perpetuated, is that a lot of app developers put 13 as the age requirement in order to use their apps.

So as a parent, of course you think, "Well, if 13's the age, then 13's the age." And that's what you think of as the rule of thumb.

However, if you've ever parented a 13 year old or if you've ever been a 13 year old ...

I want you to think back and remember, were you making fully-developed brain-based decisions at that age?

I don't even have to pause to know the answer to this: No!

Of course not.

I know that I wasn't! We (I.E. App developers and those of us who have listened to them in the past #RaisingMyHand) can't expect kids to do things that they're not wired to do!

That's why you're going to do things differently!

At age 13:

  • Her friends’ opinions matter a lot to her.
  • Her freedom does, too.
  • And so do her choices.
  • She's also not quite as open to your influence.

All of the above is 100% developmentally appropriate, and it's exactly what you want your child to be doing, but it's not the right time to START talking to her about something as important as being safe and smart online.

It's not the best time to start those conversations because she's not as wired to listen to you.

Before I share this comparison chart ...

You need to know this ...

About tweens vs teens:

Neither of these developmental stages are bad (AT ALL). But they ARE different and those differences matter when it comes to teaching your child life skills.

And today, Digital Education is absolutely a life skill!

tween parenting tips.png

Developmental stages are so powerful and so effective and are definitely not to be ignored.

But one of the ways that they've been dismissed is with all-too-popular things like pledges to not get your child a phone until a certain age or grade.

Let's dig into that.

Wait Until 8th Pledge

So why is that “Wait Until 8th Pledge so enticing anyway?

Well, it plays on your Mama Heart.

You don't want your child to be the one who is at the football game, surrounded by her friends, with small moments in the making ...

And having her sweet face staring into her phone so that she's missing the whole dang thing!

So when that pickup-line mom suggests that maybe a good solution to this problem would be to just not give her a phone and you don't have another solution popping into your Facebook feed, you wonder if maybe, just maybe, she's right.

But in reality doing this does the EXACT opposite of what you want it to! 

Here's why "pledges" like these don't work.

We're going to unpack the 3 reasons — BUT don't freak out when you read them, the FIX or the OTHER WAY to do things is right below!

1. The first reason is Group Think doesn't work for parenting.

There is just not one right way for every parent, every family, and every child. No one else can tell you what the best decision is for you, your child, or your family; certainly not just based on her age! LOL.

2. The second reason is this: when has prohibition ever worked for children?

These kinds of pledges send the message that screens, or phones, or apps are THE coveted thing. THE thing that your child should be going after. That she should be wanting. It's unreachable and so dang good ... that she can't have it. So she wants it more. 

It's like being on a diet and really wanting those peanut M&Ms, but not being able to have them. They seem so much better than if you just let yourself have one or two.

This is the exact same thing — it works in the opposite way than you want it to. You're prohibiting it, and you're making it more coveted, but you want it to be less coveted. So THAT'S why it's not working. #SoMeta #ButSoTrue

3. The third reason, and this is a really important one, is that you're not meeting your child where she is.

Connected kids are safer kids because if she feels connected to you, she'll ask you for help. She'll talk to you about what's going on. And when it comes down to it, and she needs you, she'll come to you because the conversation is open.

Pledges like these shut down the conversation and don't give your child a chance to talk to you about what's important to her, and that really matters.

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There's a parenting quote that I absolutely love that says: 

Listen to your child talk to you about the small stuff, so that she talks to you when the big stuff comes up because to her it’s always been big stuff.

 

This is that.

So you want to talk to her about what's going on with technology, and apps, and her friends, and phones, and texting, and even Minecraft.

You want to talk to her about these things so that when it comes down to it, if she needs to later, that conversation is open and she knows that she can talk to you.

So how DO you know if it's the right age?

If it's not an age thing ... then what is it?

How DO you know if it's time to get that child a phone, right?

Well, there are five questions that you have to be able to answer and if you have more yes-es than no-s for these five questions, then you're ready.

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The first question is: Is she asking for a phone?

Now, I am by no means saying if your child asks, you should go out and buy her a phone. I’m not saying that AT ALL!

What I am saying is that if it's on her mind — and this goes back to what we were saying above: meet her where she is — it means you're closer than you think you are. So if she's asking, and she's nine years old, and you're thinking, "Oh, that's so far away because 13 is so far away”; that’s not quite true. 

Because if it's on her mind, then the right time to grasp at teaching her how to have a healthy relationship with technology is right there and you should NOT let it slip by your fingers!

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The second question is: Does she need a phone?

Now there tend to be a lot to unpack in this one because so many of us will say, "Nobody NEEDS a phone." And there's some truth to that.

However, there are some very good reasons for kids today to have phones:

should tweens have phones.png

The truth about allowing and encouraging all of these milestones is this:

You're able to say yes to these kinds of things more ...

You can give more freedom, worry less, AND be more “Free Range” when you have a way to touch base and to be her soft landing.

Having a phone isn't necessary in this, but it sure does make it easier.

This is using technology to make it simple to be the kind of parent that you want to be.

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The third question is: Does she talk to you openly and honestly?

This is actually one of the most important questions to have a "yes" to. If she's already being super honest with you and super open with you about what's going on in her life, she's probably more ready than you think.

Now, if she's more of someone who clams up when it comes to sharing what her experiences are, then THIS is where she's at and you need to meet her there ... but probably without a phone.

I've parented each of these kinds of children, one who was an open book and one who I had to work really, really hard to get her to open up, and that meant that she just wasn't ready to get a phone until she was a little bit older — even though her sister got one at a younger age.

Have you heard this parenting quote before?

Fair means that everyone gets what they need.

It's one of my favorites and I really think it applies beautifully here because it's not about the age, it's about the skills.

But if she's already being really open with you, then maybe she's more ready than you think.

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The fourth question is: Do her friends already have phones or access to devices?

So this one kind of goes along with that first one — is she's asking for a phone — because I'm definitely NOT saying to go out there and buy your child a phone just because her friends have one! That would be crazy!

BUT ...

This is the important part:

If her friends already have phones, that means that all of this is ALREADY a part of her life.

So if:

  • As friends, they're discussing their online worlds
  • And interacting via texts, group chats, or on social media
  • If she's going to her friends' house and they're looking at a phone together
  • Or even on the bus or at a football game or wherever they might be ...

Then the online world is already impacting her, and you want to get in on that.

You want to influence her thinking about how to have a healthy relationship with technology and you can't do that if you're not discussing it. 

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The fifth question is: Are you ready to have the kinds of conversations that you need to have to teach her what she needs to know?

She was not born knowing how to be balanced, safe, wise, and kind online. That would be WAY too easy, right?

You have to be the one to teach it, and if you're ready to have those conversations then maybe — just maybe — you’re more ready to get her a phone than you think you are.

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So where do you go with all of this?

A few tips to nudge you in the right direction:

First, YOU must understand where you're at RIGHT NOW. If you don’t understand it, no one else will.

And second, take time AWAY from things like the 13th Birthday Trap and the Wait Until 8th Pledge to get a plan ironed out. If you just keep trekking along without a plan in place — next year is going to look exactly like this one. And you’ll be a year older, a year tireder, but still wondering if she's going to be okay online or not.

So stop what you’re doing. Answer the questions. Make tough decisions. And plow ahead so that you can parent brighter and teach your child the online skills that she needs.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave you hanging.

A couple times per year, I open my online class for savvy moms who want to become even savvier tween parents … with the confidence and clarity so that your next step? Is exactly the right one to teach your child what she needs to know. Because technology should make your parenting BETTER, not more insane. Here's what one of my students had to say about the class:

I learned how to have up-front conversations with my kids about the exact online behaviors I want them to have.
— Heather B, mom of two

The Raise Your Digital Kid™ class is a 6-lesson online class for moms who want to teach your child the exact online skills she needs, worry less, and enjoy your tween more. It only opens a couple times per year, so if you want to walk step by step through the same process Heather used to teach her kids the exact online skills they needed while slashing her worrying time in half, then visit our program page and put your name on the list to be notified when we’re opening enrollment again.

In short?

I'd like to issue you an invitation.

To quit the frantic neck-crane for what the mom next door is doing.

And to start saying yes to a simpler, more focused take on technology for your tween. One where you're ahead of the game, you set the ground rules, and you know that the thing you’re doing right now? Is the very thing that will help your child have a healthy relationship with technology.

The secret?

It isn’t a to-do list. It’s a process. A 6-lesson process I lead you through, step by step, where you’ll uncover the opportunities to teach your child the specific skills she needs that are already in front of you.

(Psst! Enrollment is now CLOSED for Raise Your Digital Kid™. It’s your one-way ticket to ditching the modern parenting Hamster Wheel for good … and stepping up as a smart, savvy mom of your tween. Visit the Raise Your Digital Kid™ page and sign up to get the first word when doors reopen.)

AUTHOR: GALIT BREEN

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Hi, I'm Galit. (*My name is pronounced guh-leet + means little waves, like in the ocean.) I give you the tools you need to let your kids benefit from the amazing things the online world has to offer them and create a popsicle dripping, chapter book reading (in one sitting!), leaf crunching childhood that they deserve. Welcome, I'm so glad you're here. What can you expect from me? I spill it all right here.

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