Kids with smartphones: What’s the right age?


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 (s aapl) 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 (s goog) 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



I think simple gadgets are good for kidssince they are bombarded with complex messages through multiple media. Lets keep life simple.

Ted Rathkopf

My children had my wife’s and my hand-me-down iPhone 3Gs (not 3GSs) for about a year, using them as iPod Touches. So, when we got my daughter a cell phone when she turned 12 and would be going into middle school, it didn’t make any sense to get her a feature phone and have her carry two devices. So, we got her a 3GS.

We have Google Voice set up on the younger daughter’s phone for texting purposes. The only people in her contact list are me, my wife, and the older daughter, and she can text us with GV when she is connected to WiFi. She has the WiFi configured for all her friends’ houses, and she can text us, and we her, when she’s there.


It’s not that complcated. Give the, the tech and free(er) use with it when they are able to teach what it is they are using. Besides improving comprehension and analytical abilities, it also improves communication relationships that tool behaviors usually fracture between kids and parents.

Apply this to adults and you’d have a lot less support calls and customer service wouldn’t need to be an industry either ;)

Thomas Daly

Many parents these days are complaining that their kids just don’t know how to truly “play” anymore. I’ve seen this countless times and am concerned that we’re rushing our young ones out of a simple, peaceful childhood and into the adult world of competition, consumerism and technology way too soon. I’m a parent at a NYC-area Waldorf School, and we adhere to a strict media policy—a social contract among teachers and fellow parents—under which screen time of all sorts is not allowed or very limited for children under age 7. There are many reasons that my wife and I and parents of Waldorf schools around the globe have sought out a “safe-haven” from the inevitable pressure of modern society, but one of the biggest has to do with learning that it’s ok to be “bored.” Children today just don’t have the same space that previous generations of children had. Space and time to get so bored that if forces them to invent their own games, to entertain themselves. The onslaught of television, computer and now mobile devices and content could keep our children from learning how to get lost in deep play, in a world of imagination—their own imagination—not well defined world of someone else’s imagination manifest in the form of an interactive game, where all the rules have been defined, all paths have been paved, all forms are final, leaving little room for the young mind to form its own images and symbolic meanings on the objects in their world.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no Luddite! I believe there is a time and a place for technology in our lives, just not in the lives of our young ones who are still coming into themselves, and living in their perfect little childhood fantasy land.

Some links:

Childhood Under Threat: Caught between the Culture Industry and the Technocratic Reform of Education

Kaiser Family Foundation Report (PDF)

Allie Peabody

I have two kids and while I don’t and still don’t consider any cellphone necessary for my 8 year old currently, my older daughter has a SmartPhone and it really only came about out of necessity. She’s 13 and until a situtation came up where I began to work later hours, I never considered even purchasing a phone for her before high school, but things change especially since she started heloing with her grandmother’s care after school. The two of them spend a lot of time together before I get out of work 3 to 4 hours later so getting a cellphone for her and my mom (another I never thought about) became necessary. There were money issues so an IPhone wasn’t even a consideration — I did the best I could on a prepaid level with same company I’m with currently. She has a decent touchscreen Motorolla phone from Tracfone (not too fancy) and I got my mom the “senior” friendly Tracfone verison from SVC that is even more basic. I hope that in time I can upgrade her to something better, but I felt that the phone, about $80 and then her grandmother’s roughly $15, were an investment in the family so to speak.

Nicole Lakusta

My kids are 14, 10 yrs old and even though I am a Curriculum Educational Technology Facilitator, they do not have their own smartphones. They do each have ipod touches and netbooks which serve them well. My reasoning for no cellphone as of yet is that both kids walk to school, each of their schools do not promote the use of cellphones, and during extra-curricular activities, either my husband or I are with them. For next school year, our eldest goes to highschool via city buses and then we believe the cellphone becomes purposeful. (She already texts her friends via textplus on her ipod touch, runs Facebook, etc… we feel the extra expense is not needed and as for walking 8 mins to school, both kids have a group of friends to walk with for safety.) I always go to ask myself the purpose of a child needing a cellphone.


We have five kids 12-2. None of kids have phones. That is both cost and need driven. We have always said that our kids will get phones when it will make our lives easier. One concern I have about smart phones is how quickly kids get lost in them. Too often I have sen kids conversations/games be cut short when one child brings out his phone to play a game. I have seen a similar thing happen in a class room setting (junior high) when kids use with tablets, even simple Kindles that are being used in place of books. So much for discussing the book. My guess is we will be getting our oldest a basic phone soon.


It would depend on the child, I think. My daughter uses the school bus to go to school. The bus driver has our cell number programmed into his cell, the school also has our contact numbers…so she doesn’t need a cell phone as such…except for entertainment.


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.


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.

Stan Tarnovsky

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.

Jason Feffer

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.

ISO 9001

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.

Gabriel Brown

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.

akash agarwal

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 —

Paul Zimmerman

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.


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.


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.

Kevin C. Tofel

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.

Mike Nicholson

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.

Comments are closed.