How young is too young for kids to own their own device?

When is the right age to give your child a smartphone, tablet, or other internet connected device? It’s a tricky question, and in an increasingly internet-dependent world, the ‘right’ answer seems to be getting younger every year.

According to the Trend Micro Australian Children & Mobile Device Survey, close to half of 3-7 year olds use their parents’ device, and a third of 8-11 year olds have one of their own.

For parents, when to get your child a device of their own is an important decision. An internet connected smartphone or tablet can be extremely helpful for your child, and even a great tool in keeping them safe from threats when you’re not around. On the other side of the coin, leaving a child alone with a portable device, internet connected camera, and access to social platforms full of strangers can lead to some dire consequences.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons, and a few steps you can take to keep your child safe when the time comes for them to get a device of their own.

Do kids need their own devices?

A mobile phone, laptop or tablet is portable. That means your child will be able to access the internet anywhere; their bedrooms, the bathroom, and school. As you can imagine, this can be dangerous.The risks include sexting, cyberbullying, and more. Young children and preteens should be monitored at all times when they’re online, to ensure they’re not exposed to extreme materials or predators.

In fact, as an internet detective, I quickly learned that predators will tactically encourage their child victims to keep their relationships secret from their parents and friends. Often, this is done through blackmail or guilt, and can be incredibly distressing for children. Mobile devices make hiding connections and conversations with strangers very easy, and the criminals I caught often used that to their advantage.

But personal devices aren’t just dangerous because of predators and extreme content. Even innocent apps can have their own consequences. Phones can be a huge distraction. The software on our devices is increasingly designed to keep us hooked – and children are particularly susceptible to smartphone addiction. Time wasted on games or YouTube videos at home might be one thing, but a phone in the classroom can lead to suffering grades.

Are there benefits?

It’s not always doom and gloom. There are definitely benefits to providing your child with a device. Though, of course, this should only be done when they are mature enough to not abuse the privilege, and understand the inherent dangers of the online world.

Providing your child with a phone gives them a great way to keep in touch with you should they get into trouble. Even better, the in-built GPS in a smartphone helps you keep track of your child’s location – or even the driving habits of older teens – with apps like Life360.

Many schools are making the most out of the educational capabilities of the latest devices. Schools around Australia are now using iPads or laptops as teaching aids, and there’s no reason why that should stop when they leave the classroom. There are many greats apps available in the market for smartphones and tablets that are educational, fun and safe, and can be a great source of added learning and entertainment for your child.

If you are having trouble balancing the pros and cons, remember it’s easy to assist in mitigating the risk of giving your child smartphone with services like Family Zone.. This allows you to monitor and control the internet use of your kids (even when they’re not at home), put a block on dangerous app downloads, and more.

Deciding when the time is right for your child

At the end of the day, it’s up to parents to decide when the time is right for their child to own their own device. Kids mature at different rates, have different needs, and household situations vary wildly. To advocate for a blanket age limit wouldn’t be sensible.

Before you decide on whether the time is right for your child, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does my child need a smartphone? Would it improve their life in any meaningful way?
  • Is my child mature enough for a smartphone? How are they doing in school? Is adding another distraction a good idea?
  • Will my child adhere to the limits and rules I set? Can I trust them not to look up explicit materials, or download dangerous apps?

If you do decide that your child is ready for their first device, we would recommend setting a few rules – at least until they are slightly older.

  •  Don’t let your child take their phones into their bedroom or bathroom unsupervised.
  •  Charge phones in the kitchen or living room, so they won’t keep your child up late at night.
  •  Set clear boundaries on which apps and websites are, and are not, okay.
  • Encourage ongoing communication between you and your child, make them aware of risks and what to do if they face an issue.
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