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Smartphones for Teens: A Right or a Privilege?

by Amy Williams

It seems like every teen has a smartphone in their pocket. Whether they’re Snapchatting selfies, googling answers to homework, or planning a get-together with friends, they’ve become an integral part of day-to-day life.

According to the United Nations, access to the internet is a fundamental right for adults. But for teens, when it comes to internet access via smartphones, the concept it a bit more dubious.

Is Smartphone Ownership Be A Privilege?

As digital natives our children have been raised in a world where connected devices are nearly always at the ready. An estimated three-quarters of all American children aged 8 and under have access to “smart” mobile devices in their homes. To them, the digital world is just as important (if not more so!) as the real world. As they grow older, social media and texting becomes their main social channel for connecting with their peers.

Can we as parents deny them access to a smartphone, knowing that doing so cuts them off from important social interactions? This is certainly what teens may argue: they have a right to own a smartphone, just like all their friends.

But we know that as children navigate the digital world, they are exposed to some very serious issues. Children love sending chats back and forth or snapping photos of each other, but they lack the maturity to make sound judgment calls. This underdeveloped sense of right and wrong can land our teens and tweens in major trouble.

Children are unable to discern who their real friends are and might befriend predators or cyberbullies. They run a real risk of oversharing personal information that could lead to contact with online predators, stalking, or cyberbullying. The list goes of possible threats and consequences goes on and one.

Parents should have the prerogative to protect their children first and foremost from the dangers lurking behind a smartphone. Children might bawl and balk at not being allowed unmonitored access to smartphones, but parents need to step in to protect a child’s privacy and future.

Giving your child a smartphone is a privilege, but is also a promise: that you will guide and protect them through their preteen and teen years, so that they will become responsible digital citizens.

Recent data shows that parents aren’t sure when a child deserves the privilege of owning a smartphone. It is estimated that about 16% of today’s parents feel that an 8 to 11 year old are mature enough for a smartphone, while 22% said they need to be at least 12 or 13. 10% of the parents surveyed weren’t comfortable handing smartphones over to their children at all.

Managing The Transition From Privilege To Right

No matter what age you decide to give your child a cell phone, one day they will have access to a mobile device of their own, and it is up to you to help bridge the gap of playing games to being responsible with this form of technology. Just like handing the car keys over to a new driver, parents need to help transition our youngest smartphone users over gradually as they develop the right to smartphone ownership.

Granting access to media can be broken down into stages by development and what amount of privacy a child should be allowed. Listed below are a few guidelines to help with this process:

  • Preteens and Younger (all children below the age of 12):  Access should be limited with exposure being geared to development activities. For tweens, it is alright to have a personal tablet or device that is strictly monitored on a regular basis.

  • Young Teens (Ages 13-15): The majority of teens in the U.S. have their own smartphone by this age. This is also a time of major personal and social development, which makes smartphone monitoring an important tool for parents.

  • Older Teens (Ages 16-18): Teens are generally able to handle the privilege of smartphone ownership. This is the age in which, if a teen has shown respect and maturity in how they use their phone and social media, you can begin to ease off monitoring.

Every teen is different, but by following these general guidelines, you can help your child understand how lucky they are to have their own smartphone.

Having a smartphone IS a privilege, and that they have to EARN the right to use it free of your supervision. By instilling this lesson early on, as they grow you can feel assured giving them more freedom to explore their their independence and transition to adulthood.

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