Getting a phone is an exciting milestone for kids, but deciding when to give your child their first phone can be a tough call for parents. Around age 9-10, many kids start asking for a phone so they can keep in touch with friends and feel independent. However, there are both pros and cons to consider before getting your 9 year old a phone.
Some quick pros and cons to weigh:
- Allows your child to easily communicate with you and friends
- Can be used for entertainment (games, videos, music)
- Provides a sense of independence
- Useful in emergencies
- Educational apps and access to information
- Can be distracting and addictive if misused
- Opens child up to inappropriate content and cyberbullying
- Risk of oversharing personal information
- Can disrupt healthy sleeping patterns
- Expense of phone and monthly service plan
There are good arguments on both sides, so consider your child’s maturity level and your family’s needs and values to decide what’s right for your 9 year old. This article will go over the key factors to weigh and provide tips to make the transition to a phone smooth when the time is right.
Is your child responsible enough?
The maturity level and responsibility of your individual child should be the biggest considerations. Some 9 year olds may be ready to handle a phone properly, while others still need a few more years of development.
Here are some signs your child may be ready:
- They’re demonstrating reliable good judgment lately in general.
- They’re able to follow family rules and take care of their responsibilities.
- They’re cautious about sharing private information and talking to strangers.
- They show an ability to manage their time well and not get overly absorbed in screens.
- They’re careful with their possessions and less likely to lose or break things.
Of course, no 9 year old will be perfect in all these areas. But if you feel your child needs significant improvement in several aspects of responsibility and maturity, they may not be ready for the privileges and risks that come with having a phone. Revisit the issue again in 6 months or a year.
It’s normal for 9 year olds to start begging for a phone when they see their friends getting one. But you should make this decision based on your own assessment of your child’s readiness – not just because “everyone else has one.”
Explain to your child that different families have different rules about when it’s appropriate for kids to get phones. Emphasize that it’s not a reflection on their maturity level, but just your family’s standards.
With some patience and open conversation, most kids will come to understand your reasoning for waiting. Make sure to provide a clear roadmap for what level of responsibility they need to demonstrate before earning a phone privilege in your family.
One major advantage of getting your child a phone is the ability to easily stay in contact for safety purposes. With a phone, your kid can call you if they need a ride home from school or a friend’s house. You can confirm plans and check in on them more easily when they’re out and about in your neighborhood or at extracurricular activities. A phone provides peace of mind that you can reach each other when needed.
However, phones also open up new potential safety risks to discuss with your child. Establish rules and expectations about:
- Not communicating with strangers online or sharing private information
- Not arranging in-person meetings with online friends without permission
- Letting you know immediately if they’re contacted by anyone inappropriate or scary
- Only using apps and websites that you’ve approved
- Keeping location sharing enabled with you when away from home
Ongoing open conversations about online safety and digital citizenship are key to making sure your 9 year old uses their phone safely. Apps like Bark and Circle can also help monitor concerning activity and usage.
For most pre-teens, the social aspects of phones are a huge part of the appeal. Your 9 year old may beg for a phone primarily to text friends, share silly photos on Snapchat, and expand their social world beyond school.
But phones can have pros and cons when it comes to social development:
- Strengthen friendships by communicating more frequently
- Bond through online experiences like games and videos
- Plan get-togethers and share memories via photos
- Potential for distraction from in-person interactions
- Risk of inappropriate or excessive social media use
- Less opportunity to practice face-to-face social skills
- Higher exposure to peer pressure and drama
If you decide to get a phone for your 9 year old primarily for social reasons, establish limits around phone use during get-togethers with friends and family. Encourage plenty of non-screen related activities and social time too. Apps like Instagram and TikTok can also be made private to limit their social circle primarily to people they know in real life.
Smartphones provide endless entertainment options, from YouTube videos to mobile games. For bored kids, this can seem like an exciting advantage of having their own phone.
But it’s important to emphasize that phones should not be your child’s primary source of entertainment. Here are some rules to consider:
- No phones during family time like meals, events, and hangouts.
- Time limits for games and videos, especially on school nights.
- Encourage educational apps and content.
- Make sure offline activities, hobbies, sports, etc. remain a priority.
It may help to have designated phone-free areas in your home like bedrooms and establish tech-free times in the evenings and weekends. Apps like Screen Time (iPhone) and Family Link (Android) allow you to set usage limits too. With reasonable rules in place, you can let your 9 year old enjoy some entertainment on their new phone without it taking over their life.
Giving your child a phone is a clear sign you trust them to handle a little more independence. But don’t confuse handing them a phone with full autonomy – you’ll still need rules and oversight.
Here are some ways to give them appropriate independence with limits:
- Let them walk to school or a friend’s house on their own, but require check-ins.
- Allow making their own social plans, but require parental approval.
- Give access to maps/GPS for getting around, but share locations.
- Let them install new apps, but require your password and review.
Look for opportunities to allow your 9 year old to flex their independence muscles a bit, but always within the safety net of your guidance and check-ins. Make sure to praise their good decisions as their maturity with phone privileges grows.
Along with all the other functions, smartphones give kids access to a wealth of information that can supplement their learning. Here are some of the educational perks:
- Research topics they’re interested in
- Use educational apps for math, science, history, etc.
- Practice reading, writing, and communication skills through texts and social media
- Learn about current events and news
- Watch documentaries and instructional videos on YouTube
You can make education a priority by downloading learning-focused apps and games, setting limits on purely entertainment usage, and asking about what they’re discovering on their phone. But don’t expect a phone to replace good old-fashioned reading, studying, and schoolwork. Use it as a supplemental educational tool.
Along with the phone itself, you’ll need to budget for:
- Protective case ($15-$40)
- Screen protector ($10-$40)
- Portable charger ($15-$50)
- Monthly service plan ($10/month and up)
Here are some ways to save:
- Consider buying a used/refurbished phone
- Choose a lower-cost prepaid plan with data limits
- Use WiFi instead of mobile data whenever possible
- Set family sharing rules like charging the phone in common areas overnight
Getting your child a phone is a big responsibility, so make sure you’re budgeting appropriately. But phones for kids don’t need to be the latest expensive model – look for deals and save where you can.
Setting rules and limits
Giving your 9 year old a phone without any rules or limits is a recipe for trouble. Make sure to establish clear expectations before handing it over. Consider rules like:
- No phones at the dinner table
- All apps/downloads must be approved by parents
- Turn in phone to parents by bedtime on school nights
- Regular checks of texts, search history, etc.
- Limits on game and social media time
Involve your child in setting appropriate rules so they have some buy-in. Be prepared to enforce consequences like taking the phone away for a period if they make poor choices. Rules and limits empower your 9 year old to use their phone wisely.
Parental controls and monitoring
Especially for younger phone users, parental control tools are essential. Options like:
- Content filters to block inappropriate websites
- App usage limits
- Text/call monitoring
- Location tracking
- Disable web browsing, app downloading, etc.
Keep tabs on their activity, especially social media and web browsing. Let your child know you’ll be monitoring their phone use as needed to keep them safe. Work towards gradually loosening restrictions as they demonstrate responsible use over time.
Lead by example
Finally, make sure you’re modeling the phone use you want to see from your child. Avoid distraction by your own phone when spending time together. Put your phone away during family meals. Don’t text and drive with them in the car. Consider having some phone-free times or zones in your home that apply to the whole family.
Kids will follow your lead, so set a great example from the start when giving them their first phone. You’ll help them develop smart phone habits for life.
Deciding when your child should get their first phone is tricky. Consider their maturity level, responsibilities, and your family’s needs and values. Set reasonable rules and limits, use parental controls, monitor their activities, and lead by example. A phone can enrich your 9 year old’s life, but also opens up new risks. Weigh all factors carefully, get your child onboard, and make the call that’s right for your family.