To give my child a smartphone, or not give my child a smartphone?

April 22, 2023

The world has changed a lot in recent years. Looking back to the time of Shakespeare, the pre-eminent question might have been “To be, or not to be?” In 2023, things have moved on considerably, with the question on many parents’ minds being something more along the lines of, “To give my child a smartphone, or not give my child a smartphone?’
In spite of the fact that many parents and guardians hold off until their children reach double digits before granting them a phone, the technological drive toward developing a digitally connected society may require parents to set some technology rules much sooner than you think.

When should you give your child a smartphone?

A common situation that often creates confusion for parents is when their child asks for a smartphone as a birthday present whilst still in primary school. At this age, many parents think that a phone will help to keep their children safe, but at the same time are not sure if their children are old enough to have one, hearing conflicting views from friends and family that leaves them feeling confused about the best way to proceed.

For a child, a phone is simply a digital toy with multiple functions; a toy that can be used to play games, take photos, listen to music, watch videos, and send messages, just as you are doing. But unlike you, your child isn’t fully developed able to understand that phones, whilst fun, can also be dangerous, affecting their physical and cognitive development, the development of their social skills, and their overall health and wellbeing. The research is clear on this: excessive phone use is not recommended for young children.

You may, however, be tempted to give your child a phone for security reasons in order to be able to contact them easily. Before taking this decision, please consider if they are mature enough to not lose or break it, and if they do, will this lead to arguments? Also, are they likely to be distracted from other important activities, like reading from books and relating with friends and family face to face?

In the end, there is no absolute right answer to this question, though many IT industry leaders, including Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, who are aware of the dangers of smart devices and the algorithms that multimedia sites use, have openly stated that children really should not be given a smart device until they are at least 13 years old, or if they are should certainly have their screen time limited to the minimum possible.

Welcome to the Future

Whilst taking this into account, we must also accept reality, being that we are part of a world where having a smartphone is now normal in society, so it is natural for our children to want one too. Children also to some degree see owning a smartphone as a status symbol and a sign of maturity, that can impress their friends, and a social tool that allows them to connect with their friends and the world around them.

How to respond to your child’s request?

The first option to just say no. Most children have little concept of the value of money, the cost of a phone, and the cost of being connected. Many also think it is their birth-right to have a phone, because their friends have one, rather than something they have to prove they are ready for. Tell them that phones are expensive and that they have to prove they are mature enough and responsible enough to use such a device, and that they will be able to enjoy this privilege when they are older.

Ask what they want to do with a phone. As I mentioned before, most of the time children want a phone to play games, take photos, or message friends. For these activities, they can use a tablet or computer, and don’t actually need a phone. Another alternative is to allow your children restricted access to your phone. In both these situations, their use should be monitored and time limited.

Discuss the downside of technology. In responding to your children’s request for a phone, it is important to point out that people who spend too much time on their phones often develop different types of problems. What is important is to be open about the consequences of using technology too much, such as taking away time from sleeping, studying, talking face to face, playing sports, and spending quality time with others, or going outside to enjoy nature and the world.

Model balanced phone use. What many parents don’t realise is that non-verbal language is much stronger than the verbal. It is useless to tell your child to not to something if you do the opposite. As parents, we also need to put our phones away during meals and other important family times, to show good manners and to teach our child that we value in-person interaction.

Build up gradually. In the end, we have to accept that we all live in a modern world, and so we can’t forbid all technology use, because technology has become a necessity. Even so, it is important to maintain a balance between technology and interpersonal contact for a healthy psychological and physical development. Start your child’s technology journey in a measured way, guiding and monitoring their use step by step, so that in time they become responsible smart device users, navigating the internet in a safe and healthy way.

Delia Ciobanu

IBSB Student Counsellor

Further reading

Students ‘cannot multi-task with mobiles and study’ – BBC News

Nearly four in 10 university students addicted to smartphones, study finds | Health | The Guardian

Screen Time and the Brain | Harvard Medical School

Frontiers | Excessive Smartphone Use Is Associated With Health Problems in Adolescents and Young Adults (

The effect of smartphone use on mental effort, learning, and creativity – ScienceDirect