When should you get your child a cellphone?

Chicago — Cellphones are a popular gift during the holiday season, but the debate remains: What’s the best age for your child’s first phone? 

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Craighton and Emily Berman are considering getting their 12-year-old son, Henry, a cellphone. He’s only allowed one hour of recreational screen time per day on the computer. 

“My wife and I have been kind of struggling with it,” Craighton Berman said. “Because there’s a lot packed into that phone. We all know digital technology and social media kind of destroys us. So I’m just trying to figure out how to destroy him a little less.” 

According to Common Sense Media, 42% of kids have a smartphone at 10 years old. By the time they’re 14, 91% have phones. 

Catherine Pearlman, the author of “First Phone: A Child’s Guide to Digital Responsibility, Safety and Etiquette,” says parents should use a phone that allows them to limit features and add access to new features over time. 

“It’s developing habit sooner,” she said. “But it’s also learning a little bit at a time, rather than getting your first phone at 13-14 [years old] fully loaded and then trying to learn everything all at once.” 

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Devorah Heitner, who runs workshops on kids and phones, and wrote “Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in their Digital World,” says parents need to ask themselves some questions. 

“Is your kid impulsive? Are they going to blow up their life with a few angry texts?” Heitner said. “Is your kid able to be honest with you and accountable?” 

In the months before giving a kid their first phone, Heitner says, discuss boundaries with your child and role play to teach them good phone manners. 

“What would you do if you were on a group text and everyone was saying, ‘Let’s restart the group text without Mary?'” Heitner said of a possible scenario. “Because then you’ll have a sense of what their discernment is.” 

Emily Berman said their son, Henry, is a “very responsible young man.” 

“Given the extra responsibility of helping by walking his brother home from school, it just seemed — I didn’t really think about the age. It was just the right time,” she said of their decision to give him a phone. 

Henry said he’s “a little bit excited and nervous.” 


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