Deciding the Right Age for Your Child’s First Smartphone: Expert Advice and Parental Strategies

The Growing Debate on Children’s Smartphone Use

Many parents worldwide are increasingly concerned about the pressure to provide their children with smartphones at a young age. Behavioral scientist Jonathan Haith emphasizes the importance of unrestricted play during childhood, arguing that smartphones have significantly altered this vital stage of development. He suggests that since around 2010, smartphones have deprived children of essential playtime and role models.

The Critical Role of Play in Development

Play is crucial for children and teenagers as it helps them experience new stimuli and develop new skills. It also enhances language and communication abilities, allows children to explore new environments, push boundaries, build and practice friendships, and emotionally and socially grow. Shared adventures through play can lead to close friendships and teach children to assess risks and make decisions independently.

How Smartphones Impact Childhood

Haith argues that unlimited smartphone use and the addiction to scrolling can compromise all these aspects of play and development. In his latest book, released in March 2024, he provides valuable recommendations for parents of adolescents to counteract these effects.

Recommended Strategies for Parents

Haith advises parents to allow their children more time for unstructured play with minimal adult supervision, preferably outdoors and in mixed-age groups. He recommends that a child’s first phone should not be a smartphone, but rather a device designed primarily for communication, without internet-based apps. Furthermore, he suggests delaying the introduction of a smartphone until high school and coordinating with other parents, schools, and community groups to ensure consistent rules among peers. Delaying the creation of social media accounts until at least early high school, if not later, is also recommended.

Legislative Changes and Parental Engagement

Haith advocates for legislative changes to raise the age of ‘internet maturity’ from 13 to 16 years to better protect young users. He also stresses the importance of communication between parents and children about their concerns and the pros and cons of smartphone use, reflecting a holistic approach to managing technology’s impact on youth.

By embracing these strategies, parents can help ensure that their children benefit from both the digital world and the irreplaceable benefits of childhood play, creating a balanced approach to technology use during their formative years. For more: read here the tutorial from prof. Jelle Jolles in Dutch.