How young is too young for a cell phone?

It’s a topic that parents today will face sooner or later, and the answer may not be as easy as you think.

“My fifth-grader is one of the remaining children in her class to not have a phone,” said Krista Boan who is a mother of four.

The times they are changing as cell phones are no longer just for teens.

“There has been a trend over the years that kids are getting phones at a younger age. Right now, the average is between 10 and 12 years, “ said Dr. Ram Chettiar, a child psychiatrist at Children’s Mercy Hospital.          

Chettiar says the struggle for parents trying to make the decision on when to buy their child a phone is a stressful one because there are so many negatives.

There are safety issues – little ones simply don’t know enough about protecting private information about things like where they live. If they’re online, they could easily stumble onto something that’s not meant for young eyes.

And, they’re also at risk of cyber-bullying. That risk starts earlier, the younger a child is when they get online.

However, Chettiar says the biggest issue by far is that it affects sleep.

“This might be because they’re in their bed, they’re either chatting with friends or texting, browsing social media, gaming, even the lights from the cell phone can make it difficult to shut down at the end of the night. We find kids being very tired, getting to bed late, waking up and not being able to function in a way that you would hope that they would in school,” he says.

Boan is trying to muddle through the uncharted territory herself.

“We are the first generation to navigate this as parents … so our best shot at handling this is each other,” she says. 

That’s why she recently started a Facebook group for parents on the topic of smartphones. It’s called “Wait a bit Kansas City,” and she’s already up to more than 1,000 members.

“We’re just concerned about the dangers and the distractions you have when there’s access to these things too early. Are they ready to be able to navigate that world? And this group of parents feels like they aren’t quite yet until later,” Boan says.

Boan is one of the thousands of parents who are also joined the national “Wait until 8th” movement. It’s a pledge parents take that they won’t get their kids a smartphone until they’re in eighth grade.

Boan says she and other parents are simply overwhelmed with the pressure to get their kids a smartphone but are doing their best to resist, saying they worry early phone use will hurt them developmentally.

“I really want my children to be able to have the skills of conflict resolution, empathy, delayed gratification and honestly resiliency … being OK with those moments when I’m not OK,” she says.

Doctors do agree it depends on the child. You’ll know better than anyone when they’re ready, and when they are, just be sure to set clear rules. Spot check your child’s phone and their activity in a way that shows that you care – not in a way that shows you’re distrustful of them.   

Model the kind of behavior you expect. Don’t drive while looking at your phone, put it away at dinner time and stop and listen to your child when they talk to you while you’re using your phone.

However, Chettiar says that’s not all.

“I always recommend that if you give a cell phone that child needs to answer your call right away and they should ignore phone calls or text messages from people that they don’t know,” he says.

Another option for parents is a flip phone. They are still being made for parents who want to be able to reach their kids but don’t want to worry about them online.

Find out more about TTU K-12 here.