What is the right age for your child to get a smartphone?

Phones are more difficult for parents to monitor than iPads.
Phones are more difficult for parents to monitor than iPads. Photo: Getty Images

When Brooke was ten, her mother Barbara gave her a smartphone.

Brooke does distance education, and Barbara wanted to help her daughter keep in touch with friends.

At first, things were fine.

But after some investigating, Barbara had safety concerns.

"Phones are more difficult to monitor than iPads or [personal computers] where you can see what's going on," Barbara says.

She was particularly worried about not being able to monitor what Brooke was watching or who she interacted with.

So Barbara took away Brooke's phone and now plans to wait till she's 14 before giving her another one.

According to new research, Barbara's new views on smartphones align with how most Aussies think.

The research from finder.com.au, found that most Australians believe age 13-15 is the right time to give a child their first smartphone.

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They say that other studies from the US and UK show that kids are getting their first smartphones earlier, at age 10.

Of course, not everyone agrees.

According to the research, almost a quarter of Aussies think it's appropriate for kids to get their first smartphone when aged 10 to 12; a third think they should wait till they're 16 to 18 and only two percent think age 7 to 9 is suitable.

This begs the question: Is there a right age to give your child a smartphone?

Clinical Psychologist Kirstin Bouse, author of The Conscious Mother doesn't think so.

Instead, she says, "it's about being sensible".

She says the longer you can keep kids off social media and smartphones, the better.

That's because it takes years for the prefrontal cortex (which is in charge of impulse control and planning) to mature.

Consequently, she believes age 14-15 is probably a "reasonable" time to make the purchase.

But age is not the only factor you need to consider.

You also need to think about your child's maturity level, ability to follow rules and level of responsibility.

It's also important to base your decision on your family's circumstances, says Alex Kidman, tech expert at finder.com.au.

For instance, some kids might need a phone earlier than others because they have a lot of extracurricular activities and need to be in touch with you.

That said, he believes the "first few years of high school" are a good time to make the leap.

While the advantages of having a smartphone are obvious - connectivity being the main one - he says risks can't be overlooked.

After all, smartphones are distracting and expensive.

Plus there are the risks associated with exposing kids to the Internet, such as "potential online bullies, predators, sexting via Snapchat [and] inappropriate photos and videos".

Before you swear off ever giving your child a phone, Kidman reassures you can minimise those risks.

To limit your child's spending, he recommends buying a prepaid SIM.

Alternatively, you could disable mobile data altogether so they're only online when at home on Wi-Fi.

If your child is using a platform you're unfamiliar with, hop on to it yourself and familiarise yourself with how it works.

There are also plenty of apps that can help.

For instance, Screentime: Parental Control lets you control the times of the day your child can access apps and websites, while showing you how long they spend online.

Meanwhile, Mobile Parental Guardian enables you to see your child's every move on their smartphone.

But he says the best way to keep kids safe online is by having a serious discussion with them.

Start by setting firm rules - along with the consequences for breaking those rules.

Bouse recommends teaching them to ask themselves question before posting anything online, such as: "Would you be happy if Mum or Dad saw this? Would you be willing to stand up at school and share this?"

If they can't answer 'yes' to these, remind them they shouldn't put it online.

Or you could take a leaf out of Shannon's book.

She wanted to keep in touch with her nine year-old daughter Lexi, but didn't want her to have a smartphone.

When she stumbled on the Moochies watch, Shannon knew she'd found her solution.

The watch allows Lexi to make and receive calls and has GPS tracking, but lacks more of the bells and whistles of a smartphone.

"I know at some point [Lexi] will be asking for a mobile phone, [but] it won't be a conversation we are having for a while though - I hope."

How old was your child when you gave them a smartphone? Or when do you plan to give your child one?