Serhiy Kobyakov/Fotolia

When Are Kids Ready For Their Own Phone? An Expert Weighs In

Ad failed to load

Millennials are often thought of as hip and in-the-know when it comes to technology. But while you may be comfortable using apps to do just about everything from paying a friend back to tracking your sleep quality, you may still falter when it comes to teaching your kids about technology. After all, today's parents grew up without the same array of devices their kids have access to. That makes it hard to answer questions such as, "When are kids ready for their own phone?" You want them to be safe and connected when they're away from you, but what's the right age?

"Instead of a date on the calendar, consider independence milestones as ways for your child to demonstrate that she’s ready," writes media expert Devorah Heitner, PhD, author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World. I talked to Heitner on the phone about what these independence milestones are, when it's not a good time to give your child a smartphone, and how you can mentor your kids and model good habits with your own smartphone behavior.

According to Heitner, the three most important independence milestones that signal your child's cell phone readiness are the ability to handle conflict, disappointment, and privacy. She points out that while safety is most parents' primary concern with cell phones, social and emotional issues are actually a bigger problem. For example, think about the smartphone-related issues you've had to deal with. Have you ever misread someone's tone in a text message and mistakenly concluded that person was angry with you? Felt sad when you discovered on Facebook or Instagram that your friends were hanging out without you? What about nude photos or recordings of sexual activity? Has anyone ever shared something you wrote in a text without your permission? It's hard enough being in your 30s and grappling with these situations. Before you give your child a phone of their own, you want to know they're mature enough to resolve conflict, regulate negative emotions, and understand what not to share.

Ad failed to load

This is why mentoring and modeling of appropriate phone behavior is so important. Heitner points out that most parents view a cellphone as a convenience, making it easier for them to stay in touch with their kids. In fact, giving your kid their own phone is "a parenting responsibility," she says. Before you make this big decision, ask yourself what outcomes you hope for. Also consider what your child wants to do with a smartphone. You don't have to add social media apps right away, Heitner says. Instead, you can start your child on texting and mobile internet browsing.

On the other hand, Heitner reminds us, many kids already use social media platforms like Facebook on the computer. Some parents have the illusion that a phone is such a big deal, but in fact their kids may already have a personal YouTube channel, Facebook account, and so on. And even if your kid doesn't have a phone yet, they could still be exposed to disturbing material on a friend or classmate's phone. The bottom line is that all the digital parenting controls in the world won't guarantee that kids never use technology inappropriately. Heitner advises parents to talk to their children about the range of upsetting material on the internet. These conversations will vary depending on your child's age, but the most important thing is for your kid to know they can always talk to you, even if they've done something you told them not to such as sharing their phone number with a stranger.

Ad failed to load

Long before your kids are ready for their own phone, they learn how to use one by watching you. So the best way to start mentoring your kids on smart phone habits is to model the behavior you want to see in them. Observe yourself over the course of a day. Do you sleep with your phone by your bed? Check it first thing in the morning before doing anything else? Heitner suggests asking yourself these questions to assess areas of improvement for yourself.

Once you've decided that you and your kids are both ready for them to have their own phone, timing is everything. Heitner notes that many parents give phones as birthday presents or winter holiday gifts, but that can backfire in a season when there is already a lot going on. Remember that a phone is a responsibility, not a toy, so Heitner recommends separating it from special occasions as well as stressful times like divorce. Wait until you and your child have time to focus on learning how to use the phone wisely.

Ad failed to load

Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:

Check out the entire Romper's Doula Diaries series and other videos on Facebook and the Bustle app across Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

Umm, Toys "R" Us Has A BOGO 50 Percent Off Deal So You Better Stock Up

After the holidays, you were probably hoping that your kid's massive toy collection would keep him entertained for a little while, at least. But that was wishful thinking, wasn't it? Because now that a couple of months have passed, all those must-hav…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

Turns Out, Kim Kardashian's Favorite Mom Products Look A Lot Like Your Own Faves

Being a mom is really hard work, especially for the first few months, and Kim Kardashian West is no different in that regard. Now the mother of three, Kardashian says that there are a few products she just can't live without when it comes to raising …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

These 9 Instant Pot Recipes Will Make Even The Pickiest Eater Happy At The Table

Like any parent, I've had my share of parenting hits and misses, but one of my favorite "wins" is my daughter's diverse palate. I don't even know if I can take credit for it, but I would like to think I had something to do with her love for lentils, …
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

Soda Might Hurt Your Fertility, Study Says, & Here's What You Can Do

Who doesn't love sugary drinks? I stopped drinking soda years ago, but I still love gulping down those fancy Starbucks coffee beverages. I don't have a big sweet tooth, but I am a sucker for sugar-sweetened beverages every now-and-then. Turns out, th…
By Annamarya Scaccia

10 Things No One Tells You About Having A Baby In Your 30s

If you're like me, you evaluate the pros and cons of any major life decision. When my husband and I were considering starting a family, I thought about my career, education, and financial stability. I wanted to know how a pregnancy and childbirth wou…
By Steph Montgomery

This Woman Thought She Had An Eyelash Stuck In Her Eye. Then It Moved.

I'm not a person who is easily icked out. As a kid, I collected bugs and thought I was going to be an entomologist and asked Santa Claus for ant farms and nets to catch bees. I'm still super curious about anything that flies and crawls, which might s…
By Karen Fratti

A Hot Mess Mom's Guide To Surviving Winter

As I sit here at my home office in Connecticut, it's cold. Damn cold. Winter is a rough season in New England and it's even worse when you're a parent and have to manage cooped up, restless children. It's even worse when you're a hot mess as it is, u…
By Jamie Kenney

5 Red Flags Your Toddler Isn't Eating Enough

Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters, at least in my experience. You offer mashed potatoes, they want french fries. You give them crackers, they scream for chips. It's frustrating, to be sure, but it's usually their way of vying for independence. It…
By Candace Ganger

11 Ways Your Pregnancy Will Be Different If You Have A Boy Vs A Girl

If you've been pregnant before, you might start comparing your previous pregnancies to that of your current pregnancy. A lot of things can change from pregnancy to pregnancy, based on a whole host of different factors (including how well you remember…
By Lauren Schumacker

35 Moms Share The Most Disgusting Things Their Husbands Do

I'm a human being who revels in challenges. I like when people present me with one, especially if they don't think I can meet or succeed it, and I like taking a challenge on, especially if it's unexpected. So when I aimed to uncover the most disgusti…
By Jamie Kenney

How Having Kids In Your 20s Affects You Later In Life

For parents, like myself, who had kids in their 20s, there are a number of questions that come to mind. When you're deciding what your future will look like, you'll likely consider what this means for your health, career, and more down the line. Thin…
By Tessa Shull

8 Reasons I Let My Toddler Play Outside Unsupervised

I'm not a helicopter mom, but I'm not exactly a free-range parent either. I like to think of myself as safely ensconced somewhere in the middle. I insist on certain safety measures, like car seats and helmets. I prefer to keep my 2-year-old in my sig…
By Kimmie Fink

12 Moms Share How They Stay Healthy During Flu Season

Unfortunately, we're in the middle of the roughest flu seasons in recent memory. And we’re not totally out of the woods, either. People around the country are still getting the flu, and, sadly, some of them are having to be hospitalized due to flu-re…
By Priscilla Blossom

8 "Mistakes" I'm Glad I Made During My First Pregnancy

As an adult, I've learned you never really stop hating being told what to do. When I was pregnant I was getting instructions at every turn, from doctors, relatives, and complete strangers on the subway. I would nod and smile but then go about making …
By Liza Wyles

Study: Drinking Two Glasses Of Wine A Day Is Good For Your Mind — Here's Why

There’s more scientific proof that a daily drink or two isn't necessarily a bad thing and could have a place in an overall healthy lifestyle. A new study out of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) in New York found that — in mice, at le…
By Tiffany Thomas

Research Says Eating Carbs Can Lead To A Healthy Pregnancy, So Bring On The Pasta

In the world of me, no food is better than bread. I know it's supposed to be pretty terrible for you, high in calories, low in protein, and full of that modern-day demon, gluten... but guys, it's really yummy. Especially warm out of the oven, when th…
By Jen McGuire

These Photos Of Prince George Then & Now Will Give You Serious Baby Fever

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their third child in Spring 2018. With all of the excitement surrounding the new baby, it's easy to forget all of the good times that have already passed. The couple's eldest is already well into the sc…
By Azure Hall

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
By Lindsay E. Mack