What’s the Right Age for a Child to Get a Smartphone?

By Brian X. Chen for the NY Times

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NOT long ago, many parents wondered at what age they should give their child full access to the car keys. Nowadays, parents face a trickier question: At what age should a child own a smartphone?

The smartphone, after all, is the key to unfettered access to the internet and the many benefits and dangers that come with it. But unlike driving a car, which is legal in some states starting at the age of 16, there is no legal guideline for a parent to determine when a child may be ready for a smartphone.

The topic is being increasingly debated as children get smartphones at an ever younger age. On average, children are getting their first smartphones around age 10, according to the research firm Influence Central, down from age 12 in 2012. For some children, smartphone ownership starts even sooner — including second graders as young as 7, according to internet safety experts.

“I think that age is going to trend even younger, because parents are getting tired of handing their smartphones to their kids,” said Stacy DeBroff, chief executive of Influence Central.

The downward age creep is meeting resistance. James P. Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that reviews content and products for families, has a strict rule for his family: His children get a smartphone only when they start high school — after they have learned restraint and the value of face-to-face communication.

But Mr. Steyer added that other parents might decide that their children are ready sooner. “No two kids are the same, and there’s no magic number,” he said. “A kid’s age is not as important as his or her own responsibility or maturity level.”

So how do you determine the right time? To come up with some guidelines, I interviewed internet safety experts and combed through studies on smartphone use among children. I also asked for parents’ advice on regulating smartphone use and keeping children safe.

Read more here.

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