When should you buy your child their first mobile phone?

Whether it’s because of siblings or parents, or whether it’s a result of them starting school, children nowadays first come across the internet and mobile phones at an increasingly earlier age. But when is it an appropriate time for a child to get their first mobile phone?

Date 2023-09-26 Author Austrian Safer Internet Centre Section awareness Topic data privacy, excessive use, media literacy/education, potentially harmful content, technical settings Audience media specialist, parents and carers
A group of six children of various ages, all looking at their own smartphones

For many children, it's time to start their first school year. It is an exciting moment, for both children and their carers. Children are nervous and joyful about this new phase of their lives. But starting school also means a big change for parents and carers. For many of them, the idea of letting their children walk to school alone can be unsettling. How can they know how their child is doing, and whether they have arrived safely at their destination?

Does school imply it’s time for the first own mobile phone? 

As you might correctly guess, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Every child is different and so is the decision as to whether they are old enough to have their own mobile phone. Nevertheless, there are some considerations that can help you make the right decision.

  1. Does your child have to go to school to school unaccompanied? Make sure that your child can call for help on the way to school in case of an emergency, even without their own mobile device.
  2. Does your child spend a lot of time alone at home after school? Is there a landline or a family mobile phone in your home that your child can use in that case?
  3. Does your child want to keep in touch with family members living in another place? For instance, separated parents, grandparents in another state, siblings studying elsewhere, and so on.

Do you think your child's desire for a mobile phone is premature?

If so, then try to postpone the purchase to a later date, for example Christmas or their next birthday. But this promise should be taken seriously, otherwise your relationship might suffer a breach of trust. It doesn't have to be the latest smartphone either; starting with a simple prepaid mobile phone or the parents' old mobile phone is enough.

Do children really get their first mobile phone so early? 

From the Saferinternet.at workshops we know that more and more primary school children already own a smartphone – in third and fourth grade especially, almost everyone seems to own a mobile device. Oftentimes, children will get their first mobile phone during second grade, for example as a First Communion present. 

Where does the desire to own a mobile phone come from? 

The interest mainly stems from children seeing friends or family members with their own mobile phones, and wanting one for themselves. In order to decide whether or not to buy a mobile phone for the youngster, it should be helpful to understand the child’s intended use for the device.

Sometimes, the urgent desire to have a mobile phone may fade on its own, once parents offer alternative ways to be entertained, play, take photos or listen to music. Could the time leading up to purchasing the first mobile phone be filled with an MP3 player, a digital camera or a family tablet instead?

How do I identify the most suitable mobile phone and pricing plan? 

Children in primary school usually use mobile phones to play, take pictures or communicate with friends and family members.

The type of use of the device also determines the appropriate device and tariff plan: if it is mainly used to play online games or stream videos, you should ensure there is enough internet data volume. If the use is primarily photos, then a lot of storage space is needed.

Parents as role models in mobile phone use 

Parents, carers and other family members should serve as role models. Whether children want their own device at an early age also depends on how intensively mobile phones and other digital devices are used within the family. If smartphones, tablets, and other devices already play an important role in the lives of parents or older siblings, the youngest children will naturally want to follow the example.

Final tips

Parents and carers should question the reason for the urgent desire to own a mobile phone, and clarify with the children how they intend to use the device. If the child might only need a mobile phone at certain times of the week, it is advisable to consider buying a family value card mobile phone. If they primarily want to listen to music, an MP3 player can be a good alternative.

If the child does not (yet) have a mobile phone of their own, do not talk to them about it. They will get in touch with you soon enough.

If you decide to give your child a mobile phone, be sure to accompany them in their first days with the device, and agree on clear rules for its use - this may concern, for example, the duration of use, downloading apps or handling personal data

Always be available as a competent contact person and set up the device in a child-proof way. Discuss what your child can do without a mobile phone in an emergency situation.

Here you can find more tips on what to look out for when buying the first mobile phone for your child.

More resources

The Austrian Safer Internet Centre has other resources available for parents and carers on the topic: the flyer Safer internet in primary schools, the brochure Media in the family,  and the parents’ guide video series "Frag Barbara!“: the first smartphone for the youngest (episode 6 of the series).

Find out more about the work of the Austrian Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.  

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