The majority of parents in a recent survey find that age 16 is about the right time for kids to have a smartphone. Standard cell phones are OK at a younger age; that makes sense as households dump landlines and kids are talking more to friends.


Do your kids want a smartphone? If you represent the majority opinion, then you’re likely telling your children they can’t have a smartphone until they can drive. A SodaHead poll of 1,066 parents shows that 66 percent of them believe kids shouldn’t have a smartphone until they turn 16 years old. More than half — 54 percent — say a regular cell phone is fine for 13- to 15-year-olds, while nearly a quarter of those polled feel even those kids 12 and under should have a basic handset.

SodaHead published an infographic with additional survey data — including trends showing that the number of cell phone calls made by kids are rising quickly — but here’s part of the data specific to both smartphones and tablets:

Interestingly, nearly the same percentage polled said the 16-and-up age group is also the right time for kids to have a tablet. Given the similar capabilities between smartphones and tablets, that shouldn’t surprise. And I suspect most parents would opt to buy their teen a Wi-Fi tablet due to the lower hardware cost and lack of ongoing data plan. That means the device is more likely to be used at home, where parents can keep a closer eye on what online activities kids are engaging in.

I’m curious to hear what our readers think of smartphones, tablets and kids. Because I’ve been reviewing mobile devices since my kids were just a few years old, my children are used to seeing a large number of cell phones, smartphones, and, more recently, tablets in the house. As a result, they’re on the younger side of the scale when it comes to using mobile technology and don’t represent the average household.

My wife and I decided that both kids would wait until the age of 10 before getting a phone. We find it helpful for them to have the ability to call us as needed, especially since one of them walks to and from school. But after seeing what I could do with a smartphone, both wanted to do the same, so neither started out with a feature phone. My stepdaughter took over my iPhone 3GS contract with a new phone number when I left iOS in early 2010, for example. My son ended up with an iPhone 4 when it debuted last year.

Both were into iOS apps, but eventually they got a pair of Android devices: the Sidekick 4G, which my son helped me review earlier this year. After a few months of using iOS applications, the kids decided that a hardware keyboard was more important to them, because they text far more than they use mobile software, hence the change. Perhaps the more interesting question then is, At what age do smartphone applications become a primary use case for kids?

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Flickr user criminalintent

  1. I just handed down an iPhone 4 to my 10 year-old son. Not being under contract, he has no service, but can always make emergency calls.

    He certainly has the skills to own a ‘smartphone.’ Without asking for help, he wiped it, logged onto our WLAN and set-up his iCloud and Gmail accounts without asking for help. This morning he sent me an iMessage to say he was already up.

    Which brings me to my own question… excluding the cost of service, what is it that scares people (including myself) about giving their children access to cell-phones.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Glenn. Your experience mirrors my own: many kids of today are more tech savvy than many of the adults I know. ;) Cost of service is certainly a factor; so too, I think is what unfettered Internet access allows for. There’s plenty of adult content / conversation out there on the web. Limiting access to that is part of the scare IMO.

    2. Mike Nicholson Sunday, October 30, 2011

      Glenn, My kids are seven and four and both can play games and interact with both my iPhone and iPad very well indeed. In answer to your question, there are a few things that would stop me letting them have their own:

      1. Smartphones are addictive! I am always on my one, but the difference is I use mine to read, search & learn new stuff. They use it to play games. There is already a worry that kids are replacing play that involves fresh air and exercise with a TV or PC screen. To my mind, giving them a smartphone would make that situation worse.

      2. A magnet for bullies. A young child with a shiny phone at school runs the risk of having it stolen by older, jealous bullies.

      3. I am still not convinced that mobile phones are not exposing us to unhealthy radiation, and I think the longer we can keep them away from little brains that are still growing, the better.

      4. Why? My kids are never left without an adult, so they don’t need their own phone. They have a Nintendo DS for games, so they really don’t need a mobile phone. My seven year old daughter disagrees of course!

      These are very personal reasons for why I don’t want my kids having a phone yet, and I am not judging anybody else with differing views whatsoever.

  2. It appears nearly all of the children have iPhones in the elementary school our children attend. I am sure the prevalence of iPhone, or any smartphone is similar throughout the district.

  3. My wife and I gave our 4 year old daughter a used LG Migo phone. It only have number 1,2,3 and 4 and we program who they call. All family of course, and we love her being able to reach us if on a play date or simply wants to say hi during the day.

  4. My view is that Kids should not be left out of the technology revolution and should get Cell Phone at around 5th grade. However, the need for controlling their access and usage is paramount of these devices. Some companies are addressing this very specific need, the Safely product line from Location Labs — http://www.safely.com

  5. Normally secondary school age, no? 11 or so.

    In inner London there’s a problem with school kids being mugged for phones and so the trend is towards a dumb phone for many kids and their parents.

  6. This is a very interesting topic. I think parents should be making a concerted effort to somewhat restrict their kids access to smart phones. Or at least they should take a degree of parental control over their usage. As for ages 10 and under is definitely too young. With this age group we as parents would be better off giving them regular cell phones. That way we can limit the danger of them being subjected to harmful and unsuitable content. I feel 13 and over might be a more appropriate age group certainly for the use of a smart phone anyway.

  7. Kids, particularly daughters, should get cheap cell phones around 10 years old. This gives parents a peace-of-mind and safety. Limit the texting, web and calling to family and emergency calls.

  8. I think kids should get a cell phone once they are old enough to be fully capable of using it (about 7 y/o, I think) and the most importantly have a need for it (if they are spending some time away from parents and not being at school, like visiting friends, etc). Smartphones are a different story – they require a costly data plan, which kids can live without just fine (unless money is no object for parents).
    And tablets… I don’t even understand why they are in this survey. They not much different from laptops, just dumber. For kids you can consider tablets to be an expensive toys (like a video game console) and act correspondingly.

  9. I have a 3 year old and 7 , and they share a current generation iTouch and iPad between them. It’s amazing how quickly they learn due to the rich library of apps available . They are delighted by the ability to shoot movies and take pictures.

  10. I don’t actually have an opinion but with a young one at home am grateful for the discussion. You have really got me thinking about this issue from a broader perspective.


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