What age is right for kids to get smartphones? Parents debate after expert says wait until high school


An ongoing parenting debate about when it’s appropriate to give a child a smartphone has been reignited, ironically, on social media.

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, shared an Instagram post Monday stating his belief that parents should wait until their child is in high school to give them of a smartphone.

In urging parents to wait, Grant, a bestselling author with nearly 2 million Instagram followers, cited his own family’s experience, as well as a new report that he said showed a negative correlation with between mental health and getting a smartphone earlier in life.

“We were among the holdout parents,” Grant wrote in an Instagram post that now has more than 130,000 likes. “We know it’s not easy, but the evidence is clear: even though children under 14 need phones for communication, they don’t need smartphones or social media. It’s time for parents to align with waiting so not just some kids. being left behind.”

Among the thousands of comments left on Grant’s post were people on both sides of the debate, with some agreeing that no child should have a smartphone until high school, and others arguing that the decision is more more nuanced than that.

“It’s funny to think this is just a household decision,” one commenter wrote, in part. “When kids are surrounded by peers with something like a smart phone, it’s impossible for them not to think they’re excluded.”

“This is the world we live in today, and I don’t understand why so many parents think we can ignore it or put up a united front against phones,” wrote another commenter.

Some commenters shared that they want their child to be able to communicate their whereabouts to parents, while others emphasized to commenters that mental health struggles cannot be blamed on phones alone.

“Great, one more thing to embarrass parents and make them feel bad about themselves,” wrote one commenter. “Why don’t we focus on learning more about mental health and how to support those who suffer from it instead of blaming parents for letting their child have too much screen time so that the holdouts who parents will feel superior.”

However, many parents shared in the comments their own experiences of waiting until their children grew up to give them phones.

“We waited until 18. They had a flip phone before that so they could reach us from anywhere. They hate social media. It worked,” wrote one commenter.

“Couldn’t agree more with this!,” wrote another commenter. “Our 13 year old is not on a smartphone or social media and it shows!”

Some commenters also agreed with the idea that parents can have an impact, writing, “We need more parents aligned with creating the ‘normal’ for smartphone use (or lack thereof). ”

Grant declined to comment to ABC News.

MORE: The American Psychological Association issues an advisory for youth and social media

Brooke Shannon, a mother of three daughters in Texas, founded Wait Until 8th, a movement where parents sign a pledge that their child won’t get a smartphone before the 8th grade.

Shannon told ABC News that the commitment is important because she believes it must be a “community effort” to successfully limit the time young people spend on phones, with parents, coaches, schools and children all involved. is on board.

According to Shannon, what started nearly seven years ago as a small effort among the parents of her daughters’ friends has grown into a national movement with more than 40,000 families from across the country signing the pledge.

“I think because so many parents are struggling with this same question, it just spread so quickly,” Shannon said, adding that she believes the movement has also grown because of a growing body of research showing the potential effect of time. of the screen to young people.

“There are so many studies,” she said, adding, “‘When you look at the amount of research, you just want to shout from the rooftops, ‘Parents just wait. There is no rush.'”

Shannon said her oldest son received his first smartphone last year, at the beginning of his freshman year in high school. She did not have access to the internet or any social media apps on the phone, according to Shannon.

“It’s basically like a communication device, where she can text, she can call, she can FaceTime, she can listen to music and take photos,” said Shannon. “That really worked for our family, to just take it easy and keep it very simple.”

said Dr. Hina Talib, a board-certified pediatrician and adolescent specialist in New York City, says she hears questions from parents every day about their teens and phones and social media.

MORE: Social media use linked to brain changes in teens, study finds

He said in his opinion, it’s hard to come up with a blanket age where it’s OK to give a child a phone and access to social media.

“The truth is simply more nuanced than these headlines,” Talib told ABC News. “The best advice is really specific to the child in front of you. There is no doubt that social media for some young people can be harmful, but there are still groups of young people who engage with their friends … and their interests in a helpful way.”

Talib said he believes a better approach is to decide on a more individual level when a child is ready for a smartphone, and then provide more access to the phone with “more practice earned and responsibility earned.”

“For example, you can start by just using it as a communication tool with only text or only music, and then over time, try other applications and eventually social media,” Talib said. “But even then, it should always be an ongoing, by-way communication between you and your teen and young adult as they continue to develop their relationship with technology.”

How to tell if your child is ready for a phone

Talib said he encourages parents to use a free 10-question tool from the American Academy of Pediatrics and AT&T to help them decide if their child is ready for a smartphone.

The tool asks questions such as how often a child will need the phone to communicate with others, how responsible the child is in other activities, such as turning in school assignments, and how the child is good at following rules about other media, such as TV or video games.

If a child is ready for a phone, the AAP also has a free tool where parents can work with their child to create a media plan that works for their own family.

Parents also have a resource through the American Psychological Association, which earlier this month issued the first guidance of its kind on teenagers and social media.

The guide contains 10 recommendations designed to ensure young people get the right training on how to use social media safely. For most families, that means starting an active discussion about which sites teens use, how often and how they feel about those experiences.

In addition to setting limits, the APA strongly encourages ongoing discussions about social media use and active supervision, especially in early adolescence. Parents are encouraged to model healthy social media use, including taking social media “vacations” as a family.

ABC News’ Sony Salzman contributed to this report.

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