Giving my 10-year-old a mobile phone is the biggest parenting mistake I've ever made

Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto 

My daughter, Rose, has wanted her own phone for as long as she has known what a phone is.

During the toddler years a plastic toy phone was her most prized possession. When she got older, she made her own out of cardboard and emoji stickers. And then, a couple of years ago, she started adding 'iPhone' to her Christmas list. 

Of course, I told her that children didn't need phones. I told her that phones aren't toys. I told her that I didn't get an iPhone till I was 30. I didn't tell her that iPhone's didn't exist when I was a kid – but that's a minor technicality.  

I had no intention of giving her a phone. But then all her friends started playing Roblox and her FOMO was driving us both crazy. I was due for a phone upgrade anyway so there was going to be a spare phone lying around. 

With 48 per cent of children aged 6-13 either owning or getting access to a mobile phone it felt like a sound decision. What harm can it do? I innocently thought. This is the moment that I wish I could teleport back to. I would shake myself by the shoulders and scream 'Nooooo! Don't do it!' Sadly, this is not an option. 

I thought that I'd put sensible plan in place. I did my research and came up with a 10-point contract that Rose had to sign. It included rules about how long she could use the phone for, what she could and couldn't do, and, crucially, a 'do not lord it over your little sister' clause (which she broke almost immediately.) 

I've read all the scare stories about the negative impact of phones on kids. Headlines like 'Compulsive Phone Use Affects Wellbeing', 'How Technology Lowers Emotional Intelligence' and 'Phone's Literally Turn Kids Into Zombies' (ok, I made that last one up). 

But I honestly thought that with the right guidelines in place the phone could be a positive thing. She would have more contact with her friends (via the mysterious world of Adopt Me) and connect with her cousins overseas via iMessage. 

The change in Rose was almost immediate. She became obsessed with her phone, sometimes even waking up in the middle of the night and sneaking downstairs to play games while the rest of us slept or getting up at the crack of dawn so that she could get some phone time before I got up and told her to put it away.  


She stopped playing the board games that she'd loved, stopped hula-hooping, stopped nagging me to take her to the park (oh how I miss her nagging me to take her to the park!). All she wants to do is play with her phone.  

When I hide the phone or lock it up she sulks and whines all day. It makes her stroppier than when I gave up smoking 20 years ago, but without the nicotine withdrawal patches. 

Of course I have tried to use her phone against her – I set up parenting controls to limit her time in different apps. But (and call her a criminal mastermind if you must) she managed to crack the code and disable all the screen time. 

I know that I am the parent and that ultimately it's up to me to enforce the rules – but while I brace myself for the battle ahead I urge others not to make the mistake that I made.

Ten is way too young for a phone. I desperately wish that I'd never given it to her in the first place.