When Should Kids Get Their First Phone?

“But mummy, some of my classmates already have their own phone” *cue whiny sound by my 2nd-grader* 

He’s made friends with children from the neighbourhood, some of whom are 4th and 5th graders. They play games like Roblox and Rules of Survival. These are games which I personally feel are not meant for 1st and 2nd graders at all. But unfortunately, because of peer influence, both my 2nd and 1st graders are in fact playing (and are addicted to) these games.

My 4-year-old on the other hand, has shifted his addiction from Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom Youtube episodes to Slither.io (some snake game). The addiction to screen time in our house is getting out of hand and it often ends up in meltdowns and children blaming us parents for their bad mood.

I mean, why do we still let them have screen time if we know it always ends up with 3 cranky tearful boys? I can’t answer that question myself.

And mind you, they are using our devices. They don’t have their own devices yet. And at this point, they clearly cannot keep to the agreed screen time (30 minutes each time, twice a week) without some form of unhappiness when they have to give back their devices.

I have 2 big questions that I’m still searching some answers to.

  1. Should I still let my children have screen time? And why?
  2. When should they have their own phones?

These are questions that modern parents are grappling with, without any definite answer. To each his own.

What are the reasons we (i.e. my husband and I) want our children to have screen time?

  • We feel that the world is evolving. We can’t run away from screens and the penetration it has and will have in our children’s lives. We don’t want to “deprive” our children of things that other children have access to.
  • We ourselves use screen a lot at home, whether it be for checking emails, browsing social media or just surfing the net. It would be hypocritical of us to prohibit our children from using screens while we can hardly pull our own eyes away from our own devices.
  • A little leisure time on the screen won’t hurt, or so we thought.
  • If they are able to keep screen time within the limits we set, we feel it is alright.

What are some of the challenges we face when we allow our children to have screen time?

  • While we do not mind them playing games, we would also like them to go to websites to read articles for general knowledge or watch educational videos for kids. But every time they get their hands on the screen, it’s always games games games. Even when we suggest they visit certain kids website (which are fun, mind you), they expressed no interest whatsoever.
  • As mentioned above, the games they like to play might not be suitable for their age. The content, the people in the game who might be adults using foul language in the game chat, etc. These are the things that concern us.

  • The addiction they have towards screen time and the negative effect it has on their creativity and the reduction in the ability to regulate their emotions is worrisome. They feel bored more easily and often ask for screen even though they know it is not their screen day. (We only let them use screen twice a week and 30 minutes each time). But they will whine for the screen all week round and say they’re bored and that nothing else is fun. That is so sad. Just sad.

Why do kids enjoy screen time so much?

  • Games are purposely designed by their developers to be addictive so that players return to the game again and again and find it hard to stop playing. This is so that they can make more money from in-app purchases or in-game advertisements. Our children fall victim to the nature of the games.

  • It’s one of the easiest and fastest way to have fun. They don’t even need a friend. They just need a device in their hands.
  • They like the challenges they have to tackle in the online games and truth be told, it’s not easy to find that kind of challenge in real life. So kids these days turn to games to try things out fearlessly.
  • My boys get excited to play their games because they make appointments, yes they do – i’m not joking, with their friends to be online at a certain time, in a certain game and on a certain server so they can play together. I mean, these kids are all in their own rooms yet they are “playing” together. They don’t need to wait for mom and dad to ferry them to a friend’s house in order to play together.

So, having touched on the above points, when should they have their own phones? 

It’s not an easy question to answer. There are a lot of questions running through my mind even before I can answer that question.

  1. Are they mature enough to regulate their own phone usage and spend only an appropriate amount of time on the screen?
  2. At what age am I comfortable for them to have access to an ocean of crazy information and videos out there?
    1. Information that is not true,
    2. information that is totally useless,
    3. information that is too traumatising,
    4. information that is not age-appropriate,
    5. how about cyber-bullies? When will they be mature enough to handle the negative emotional reactions that come with being bullied online?
  3. If I wait too long to give them their phone, how do I contact them when I need to? Perhaps, a simple nokia 3310 will do the trick.
  4. But if I wait too long to give them their own smartphone, how do they stay in touch with their peers when they have no access to social media or WhatsApp? Will they feel left out? Will they be at a disadvantage when it comes to making friends?

The obvious answer to one question may contradict the answer for another question. That’s why it is so hard for most parents to come to a decision when it comes to screen time and when to give their children the autonomy of owning their own phone. To each his own.

For me, at this point, here is my stand (but it may change as our family evolves):

  • I would want my children to have minimum screen time per week (desirably less than 3 hours per week as long as they are under 11 years old) as I really believe in the benefits of spending time outside, exploring creativity and art, reading or just simply being bored.
  • To think that my children can have access to the things we can find on the Internet scares me. I mean, I had full access to the Internet approximately when around 16-17 years old. I believe I was mature enough to know right from wrong (although not 100% so), what information I should seek, what I should trust or ignore online. I can’t imagine my children having these abilities at a younger age. It would be horrifying for a 10-year-old to watch videos about UFO sightings, alien presence, the Earth is flat theory and all sort of bullshit (pardon my language). What would become of their knowledge? It would be so messed up. They won’t know what’s fact or fiction. It would be terrifying just to think about it. This might be the main reason I will prolong giving them their first phone.
  • But what about their social life? This is tough. No-one wants their child to feel left out. And these days social media form a big part of kids and teenagers’ lives. They literally “live” in social media. They interact through text messages, see each other on instagram and snapchat. What happens if my boys do not have access to any of these? Will they have friends? I don’t know my stand on this. It’s a tough decision.

Where do you stand as a parent? I would like to hear your opinion on this matter. Are you less worried? Or do you belong to the group that is deeply concerned? Let me know in the comments section 🙂 I’ll be looking forward to reading all your comments.

Till next week,

Lili is a wife and a mum to 3 boys. An aspiring writer. Adores creativity, art and beautiful creations. Dog lover. Gentle-parenting follower. Follow her parenting journey at http://www.happywehappyfamily.com where she writes about family happiness and how to stay connected to our spouse and kids.

For further reading you can read the following articles:

It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies

Dopamine: the cause of digital addiction?

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