Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.
In 2016, Influence Central reported that the average age kids get a smartphone is 10 years old. This age continues to drop as more parents are purchasing internet-connected mobile devices for their children: Common Sense Media found that 42 percent of American children ages 8 and younger now have their own tablet.
Companies have been quick to cash in on this growing younger demographic by creating kid-focused apps like Facebook Messenger Kids – a chat tool for kids to communicate with parent-approved contacts – and video creation and sharing app Musical.ly. With the increasing number of programs geared toward children, it’s up to parents to monitor usage and set boundaries to avoid endangering their kids.
How Strict Should You Be With Your Child’s Smartphone Use?
Managing your child’s smartphone use depends on their age, their maturity level, and your own mobile device habits. It’s difficult to enforce a “no smartphone or tablet” rule when you’re constantly using one around your son or daughter. On the flip side, you don’t want to hand your preschooler their own device with zero supervision or limitations.
While you ultimately need to make your own decisions as a parent, here are a few general guidelines for screen time management at different age levels:
Toddlers: It is strongly recommended by experts that children under the age of 2 avoid television and mobile apps entirely. Regularly exposing infants and toddlers to screens can interfere with brain development and leave “lasting negative effects on children’s language development, reading skills, and short-term memory,” writes David L. Hill, MD in a HealthyChildren.org article.
Preschool: Dr. Hill advises capping your child’s electronic entertainment time at one hour per day while they’re below the age of 5. The content they do consume should be high-quality and educational – something focused on math or language, for example.
Elementary school: If you choose to give your child their own mobile device, try to balance their phone or tablet usage with other non-electronic forms of entertainment, like craft supplies, board games, and outdoor physical activity. Discourage them from bringing their device into their room at night, and instead suggest that they read a book or a magazine before bed.
Pre-teens and teenagers: By this point, the majority of your child’s peers will have 24/7 access to their own smartphones and data plans. You may not be able to control their screen time anymore – other than perhaps asking them to put their phone away at the dinner table – but you can have discussions about how their usage of social media apps and games is impacting their overall development and well-being.
If you’re concerned about what your son or daughter might be doing online, don’t demand to check their history or read their private messages. Instead, have an open conversation that encourages them to think critically about their internet usage, and how the things they post might affect their safety or their reputation. Helping your child understand the consequences of sharing too much of their lives with strangers – or even people they know in real life – will steer them toward making smarter decisions in their online behavior.
As your son or daughter grows up and proves they can be responsible with their devices, consider relaxing some of your restrictions on their device usage, especially as they reach their teenage years. Treat your child like the young adult they are, and show them that the reward for earning your trust is more freedom and independence.