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When is the right to time to get your child a phone? 28 parents share their thoughts.

My eldest son has just turned 11 and we have started to have discussions about whether or not he can have a phone. 

He already uses an iPad for schoolwork, gaming and chats with friends in lockdown, so at this stage, we plan to hold out on the phone purchase until he starts high school.

While a few of his friends already have a smart phone, others have smart watches with call functions, while some parents I know believe the best time to buy a child a phone is... never.

I asked the Mamamia parenting community to tell me what they thought about kids and phones.

Here's what they had to say: 

1. "I wanted to wait until age 14, but our kids are getting them in time for starting high school. It has been very convenient, but I don't know if that offsets the worry that comes with it: the damage to the phone or to the child mentally and emotionally. We're implementing lots of guidelines around reasonable use/what can be installed." Valerie.

2. "We got our son a phone for Christmas last year, he was 11, now 12. We got it because he was starting secondary school and was going to be on the bus, not just to school but to after school activities." Natalie.

3. "My boys are ages seven and 10 and they have phones, but they have zero interest in using them! They don’t take them to school or anywhere and I tried to encourage them to use them as cameras, but they're still not interested." Kristi-Jane.

Watch: Celebrities discuss parenting and it all sounds very familiar. Post continues below. 


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4. "My stepdaughter got a phone at eight, but it was more because her parents are divorced and not always amicable. It allows for her to contact mum and dad and them her. We have pretty strict rules and parental controls though." Myf.

5. "I gave my daughter a phone when she started catching a bus to her new school this year and doing more stuff with her friends out and about. She is 10, and in year 5 at school. I was really torn about it, but I am glad we did it. She feels like she has a bit more independence, but I can also keep an eye on where she is with a tracking app... does that make me a stalker?" Frankie.

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6. "I'm not a parent, but I asked my older sister this question last week. She is 33 and has four boys under nine. She lives in Wagga Wagga, so she drops them to school and does most activity drops off herself at this stage. She's planning to wait until her oldest son is in year 7 to get him a phone. She said that if they were in a metro area and the kids had to get public transport to school, she's consider a phone in the next two years." Isobel.

7. "I gave my son a 'block' phone when he started leaving the house in grade 6. He also had an iPhone to use at home for games etc. I chose a block phone over a smart phone as I was concerned he'd be on the iPhone when walking along streets and across roads and lose focus. For his 13th birthday, we moved the SIM card from the block phone to the iPhone." Kate. 

8. "We got our three kids a mobile each for high school when they had to catch public buses. We also put them on pre-paid plans so that they get a set amount of data and can't rack up huge debt on a post-paid plan. All three got our old handsets and if they want the latest model, they can save up and buy it for themselves from their part-time job money. All of the phones are linked through family sharing with parental controls so they have to request to purchase apps or spend anything through the app store." Cathy.

9. "I got my first phone when I was in year 6 in 1999 but it was always off and in the front pocket of my school bag. It was just for emergencies but I never needed it. I only had it because my dad liked gadgets and so he bought one for my brother and me. Throughout high school, more of my friends got phones but we didn't text each other. It wasn't a thing back then for us. I finished school in 2005 and maybe around that time I finally started using it. As for my kids (aged three and five), they won't get one until high school at the earliest, I think. I just don't see why they would need one before then." Madeline.

10. "My son is just a toddler, so we haven't had to worry about getting him a phone yet but I got a phone when I was in year 8 and age 13. I can't even remember the brand name, it was OLD AF. BUT I used it to make the most of Optus Free time - 19 minute calls from 9pm until the early hours of the morning. Those were the days!" Nicolle.

11. "I have twins who are now 13. My daughter got her phone when she just turned 11 in grade 5 as she increased the amount of hours spent dancing - the dance studio is secure, however if she needed me or anything there would be no real way for her to get into contact with us. My son got his phone at 12 when children in Victoria went back to school after COVID lockdown as pick up points were often different and he was not in the same class as his sister." Connie.

12. "I just got my 12-year-old a phone this week. The phone itself isn’t new, it’s one of our old iPhones (iPhone 6, maybe?) and we just got a $10/month prepaid SIM card for it. He’s starting high school next year and will be taking public transport to school so we wanted him to have one for then. He’s been going for lots of bike rides with friends during lockdown and on two occasions recently has had to use his friend’s phone to call us for help - one time he damaged his bike and couldn’t ride it back home, and another time he injured himself falling off. So we decided now was a good time for him to have a phone!" Laura.

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13. "I purchased a phone for my son at the beginning of this year. He was 12 (now 13). The main reason was that he started high school and was needing to get the bus. He also goes to his father's house via bus, so has to remember four different bus numbers. (He still turns up at the wrong house on the wrong nights). We also have the "find my phone" function activated so we can track him on a weekend as he is getting more freedoms to hang with his mates at the skatepark." Kate.

14. "My daughter was 10 and my son was eight when they got their first phones. They use them to manage their Type 1 Diabetes. The amount of insulin they require is calculated via an app which communicates with their glucometer. We had to put in place strict boundaries and ensure they followed the rules to make sure they didn't just spend all their time on their phones and to make sure they didn't access anything they shouldn't. Some parents probably judged us when our kids whipped out their iPhones in primary school, but it was what was best for them and the management of their complex medical condition." Hollea.

15. "My daughter got a phone for her 12th birthday. She is going into high school next year and will be getting the bus. She goes riding and skateboarding with her friends - and often on her own - so I wanted a way to reach her. She also goes down to our creek on her own. I have her phone connected to my business account, so I can see the amount of data she uses. I also have access to her messages. She does have TikTok, Instagram (parent monitored) and Snapchat on her phone, but I have her accounts on my phone so I can check them at any time. She also knows at any time that I will pick up her phone and have a flick through it. Plus, for any apps she wants to download, she has a parent request on them as well. We talk about the privilege of having a phone and she’s aware that it can be taken away. Oh, and her TikTok has a timer on it! She can only view it for one hour a day in total and then it’s blocked!" Kirsten.

Listen: Holly and Andrew discuss giving kids phones following an anonymous listener dilemma on the This Glorious Mess podcast. Post continues below. 


16. "I have been criticised by friends as my kids had phones when my eldest was in year 6 and my youngest in year 4. The reason being, we moved to Adelaide from Sydney and had no family or close family friends here. I wanted my kids to be able to contact me at any time as they had no one else to go to. They are in year 7 and 9 now, still have phones, and it all works well. Some of the criticism was that I bought them new iPhones. But I didn’t really care. I had the money, they are responsible, and they keep them for two years before we upgrade for zero fees." Claire.

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17. "I’ve been very strategic with this very subject. My now 14-year-old son has a smartphone. He got it for Christmas prior to starting high school this year. He needs permission to download apps and his account is attached to ours (we are all on a family account). He doesn’t have TikTok but I’ve allowed him some other apps as he is mature for his age. My 12-year-old starts high school next year and is significantly less mature. So at Christmas last year we got him a basic phone with $40 credit and no access to apps. We told him we would upgrade him to a smartphone this Christmas if he was responsible with his credit. He has $36 left so he's more than proven himself. He will not have any access to Snapchat or TikTok and will also need our permission to download apps." Peta.

18. "My parents actually gave my five-year-old an old phone of theirs recently! It doesn't have a SIM card or anything so he just uses Wi-Fi and only has a few games loaded and can text us. He doesn’t take it out unless we are with him. At first, I was a bit taken back by the concept, but now I actually like it when I get messages from him. It's super cute!" Tabitha.

19. "My daughter was about eight when she got her first basic mobile. She spends one or two nights a week at her other parent's house, so I wanted a way for her to call me or them whenever she wanted to, without question." Rebecca.

20. "My kids travelled on a public bus to school from the ages of 12 and nine. Neither of them had mobile phones until they were 14. We did have a 'dumb' phone they could use if they needed to call for pickup from a sporting activity or school event. On the odd occasion they needed to contact us prior to having a mobile, they would go into a shop and ask to use the phone." Donna.

21. "I got my first phone at 17. I bought it myself because I was working weekends in town and driving the family car for an 80km round trip including dirt roads. For reference, that was 15 to 20 years ago. For our kids, age 15 is the plan. We live out of town, and our town isn’t big. This is working for other families I know, so that’s where we are heading too." Waverney.

22. "We [got phones for the kids] at age 14 to 15, and only because that's the age they regularly used public transportation. We were considered old fashioned because most of their friends got them much earlier. Honestly, I have no regrets - phones take over their lives. Not giving them a phone until they were 14 meant they had the chance to be kids. At the time they wanted them earlier, but they accepted our choice. Now at age 20, they tell me they are glad we waited." Michelle. 

23. "We got my nine-year-old a Spacetalk watch when he needed to take the bus with his additional needs brother to-and-from school, just in case he needed help. When it was just him doing the same trip he didn't need it. We don't plan to get him an actual phone until year 8 hopefully." Brittany.

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24. "I got my first phone at 10. It was one of those giant Nokia bricks and was handed down from my mum when she got her second ever phone. My daughter won't be getting one until she needs it. As in, spends time alone, walks to and from school, etc. She's eager to get one soon (she's only nine) but I've explained that she has the rest of her life to be staring down at the bloody thing, and I'd rather give her as much time as humanly possible avoiding that." Leah. 

25. "We had a 'burner' phone for our girls for when they went to the movies or something with friends and needed to be picked up. It only had three numbers on it. They had to be able to sustain their own phone plan to be able to own their own phone (aka have a part time job) and both girls have owned phones and have been responsible for them from age 15." Suzi.

26. "For my kids, the summer before high school was the right time. It was full on with Instagram and bullying during the first year, but it settled down as the novelty wore off. We use them for school too." Amanda.

27. "This is a sore topic in our household as my kids, aged 11 and nine, think I’m being mean not letting them have one. We live in a semi rural area and many of their friends have them because of bus trips. I’m just trying to hold off as long as possible because unfortunately I don’t think a lot of good comes from them and I think they need to be ready to deal with some of the issues that can come with having a phone. I’m happy to wear the worst mum ever badge to protect them a little longer." Jade.

28. "My older two children both have phones. The second child got his when he was 10 because he started catching the bus to school on his own. It means that if anything happens, he can contact us. One day his bus was over an hour late due to traffic, so it was good that he could let us know. Our oldest has an intellectual disability and only got his phone this year at 15 because he didn’t need one before that and we weren’t sure how he’d manage it. He has surprised us by managing it really well. He knows not to use it at school and 90 per cent of the calls he makes are to his grandparents who live interstate, which they love. He has also recently started going out with support workers, and he needs a phone to check in to places." Kath.

Do your kids have a phone? Or are you holding out as long as you can? Tell us in the comments below.

Confused about Snapchat? Unsure about TikTok? Meet the Safe on Social Toolkit: the digital ‘survival kit’ designed to arm parents with everything they need to know about keeping their kids safe online. Find out more now at www.safeonsocialtoolkit.com.

Feature Image: Getty. 

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