Screen Time

Q: “Is My Child Old Enough for a Smartphone?”

What age should a kid get a phone? Is “wait til 8th” good advice? Or could a 10-year-old with ADHD have their own smartphone? Here, a media researcher provides helpful guidance to parents.

Photo by Vanessa Loring:
Photo by Vanessa Loring:

Q: “How do I know if my child, who’s 10, is ready for a smartphone? Are there benefits or downsides to holding off when it seems like all my child’s classmates have access to one? Should I be concerned about potentially early exposure to social media?”

Many parents are unsure when to give their child a smartphone. Ultimately, the decision is a personal and nuanced one, but we do know that most children today get their first smartphone by age 11.1 Also, many tweens are on social media platforms, even though virtually all these platforms require registered users to be at least 13 years old.1

That said, your child’s maturity level is the most important factor to consider when deciding when to give them a smartphone. In my opinion, 10 might be too tender an age for a smartphone and the social-media access it unlocks.

[Read: Is Your Teen’s Social Media Use Dangerous?]

There’s very little research on the impact of early initiation onto social media. But a study our lab conducted shows that children younger than 11 who are on social media platforms, namely Instagram and Snapchat, are more likely to report problematic digital behaviors compared to older tweens and teens.2 These behaviors include having online friends or joining social media sites that participants knew their parents would disapprove of, as well as exposure to more harassment. Parental restrictions on phone use ameliorated some of the negative effects.

That same study also revealed a surprising upside: Children who were on social media before age 11 showed greater civic engagement online – in the form of supportive social media posts, raising awareness of social issues, event organizing, for example – compared to children who joined later. Overall, the study also showed that early adolescents more frequently engaged in positive digital behaviors than they did negative behaviors.

Access to a smartphone essentially means access to social media. If you decide to give your child a smartphone, it’s essential that you establish rules for its use and engage in ongoing conversations about healthy online experiences.

What Age Should a Kid Get a Phone? Next Steps

The content for this article was derived, in part, from the ADDitude Mental Health Out Loud episode titled, “The Mental Health Fallout from Social Media Use” [Video Replay and Podcast #416] with Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., which was broadcast live on August 16, 2022.

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View Article Sources

1 Rideout, V., and Robb, M. B. (2019). The Common Sense census: Media use by tweens and teens, 2019.

2 Charmaraman, L., Doyle Lynch, A., Richer, A., Grossman, J. (2022) Associations of early social media initiation on digital behaviors and the moderating role of limiting use. Computers in Human Behavior, 127.