The experts agree: Age shouldn't be the deciding factor in when a child receives a cellphone. Instead, parents should weigh a child's level of maturity and need for a phone.
"You know your child better than anyone else," says Michael Rich, an associate professor of paediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a paediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital. "All 13-year-olds are not the same. There's some who can handle social media and there's some 23-year-olds who can't. It's really a matter of parenting your kids in the digital space just as we parent them in the physical space."
David Anderson, a senior director of national programs and outreach at Child Mind Institute in New York, has a refreshing take: The problem is not that phones are inherently unsafe, it's that "they displace some of the things that are really important for any child's development." he says. A child ready for a phone should already have other habits and support systems in place, he says: good school performance, a steady homework record, extracurriculars, face-to-face interaction with friends, plenty of family time without screens, plenty of non-screen-based activities and a healthy sleep routine.
If you decide your child is ready, the next decision is the type of phone: basic phone, feature phone or smartphone. Many parents prefer to equip their kids with a flip phone, to avoid social media apps and Internet access. (Although Sierra Filucci, editorial director of Common Sense Media in San Francisco, says that these features can still be controlled on smartphones, if preferred.) A feature phone is a middle ground, with Internet and music but without add-on apps. And, of course, a smartphone has all the bells and whistles. Then there's secret option four: "If your child wants a phone simply to take photos and play games, consider an inexpensive tablet for your tween until they're ready for the responsibility of their own phone with mobile data," says Amber Mac, co-author of "Outsmarting Your Kids Online."
Budget is the bottom line for most parents. "While kids love new devices, I'd recommend buying a previous model, a generation of two older than the latest release," Mac says. (Choices may be limited by which service provider you have.) Make sure to give that used phone a clean slate, says Andrew Moore-Crispin, director of content at Ting Mobile in Toronto, wiping everything but the standard email, phone and messaging apps.
Once the phone is bought, don't skimp on the case. Sascha Segan, the lead analyst for mobile at PCMag.com in New York, recommends both the Otterbox Defender and the Supcase Unicorn Beetle.
And because technology changes faster than parents can keep up, Rich maintains a page on the website for the Center on Media and Child Health called "Ask the Mediatrician" for updated information on all things media, kids and safety.
Here are some expert recommendations for great starter phones for tweens and teens.
© The Washington Post 2019