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parents panel

Parents Panel: What's the right age for a smartphone?

How soon is too soon? Our panelists told us what they thought.

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AS PART OF’s weekly Family Magazine, we wanted to create a space for parents to share their views. A place where mums and dads could share their experiences, lessons learned, and even mistakes along the way. 

Having a smartphone means much more than just being contactable by phone or text. It means access to any number of sites, apps and interactions. Deciding when to give your child that kind of access can be a tough decision.

This week we’re asking our panel the impossible question…

What’s the right age for a smartphone?

Here’s what they had to say…

Parents Panel All 7 - Copy - Copy Top L-R: Olly Keegan, Alan Dooley, Denise, Ken Hyland. Middle L-R: Ríona Flood, Ross Boxshall, Marta Lisiecka, Denise Cumiskey. Bottom L-R: Kait Quinn, Susannah O’Brien, Derek McInerney, Suzie Kelly

I waited until secondary school started: I have been down this road with my two eldest, who are now 22 and 17. Smartphones came into play once they went to secondary school. My eldest asked for one for Christmas that year, and it was the only thing he looked for, so I felt guilt-tripped into it. I spent the next two years being hounded by his sister for one, but she had to wait like him until she went to secondary, then she got one for christmas also. Their phones are pay-as-you-go, and I don’t buy them credit, they have to work for that money.

- Denise Cumiskey

He’s 12 and doesn’t need one, so he doesn’t get one: Our eldest, 12 and in first year of secondary school does not have a phone, because he does not need one. He does have a phone watch where we can call him and him us, should it be needed. Right now, he does not understand the dangers of having a smartphone. We want to see some understandings of responsibility from him before he gets that freedom.

We are attempting to educate our kids on what it means to be online, which is what a smartphone represents. We use software to track and control all their device use. If time spent was excessive we would lock it down. Currently we use Disney’s Circle parental controls to keep on top of usage with tablets in the house. When the time comes, we’ll extend this to mobile device use outside of the home. As for smartphone, when they are ready, we’ll let them have one.

- Alan Dooley

shutterstock_539739187 (1) Shutterstock / Supawadee56 Shutterstock / Supawadee56 / Supawadee56

He’s 4, we try not to be ‘screen zombies’ in front of him: Our son is only four, and we don’t give him any access to our phones or tablets yet. We also try to restrict using them as ‘screens’ in front of him. We do still take and make calls, but try not to be screen zombies. He does get to watch some TV and DVDs though. For now he is too young for the rest.

- Olly Keegan

When she turns 14: We have told our eldest (9) that she will not get one until she is 14. She doesn’t need one yet! Let’s hope nothing changes. Our children’s primary school has a ban on phones but parents can formally apply for an exception for their child to carry one on health and safety grounds.

- Ross Boxshall 

I’ll hand over the phone to stop a toddler tantrum: We’re obviously a long way away from Charlie getting his own phone as he is only a toddler, but I already feel this is one you can’t win. We do sometimes give in and hand over our phone when travelling or at restaurants if it’ll prevent a meltdown… but I have definitely felt judged for using it and don’t like resorting to it too often. Right now, we’re considering a family tablet that he could use to watch shows and play games on.

- Kait Quinn

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Once they started secondary school: For us, it was simple. They got their first phone when they started in secondary school. It was only then that we felt that they actually had a need for a phone. Lots of their friends had phones way before they did, but we just couldn’t see the point in giving them one before that time.

- Ken Hyland

I plan on waiting until they’re 16: My children are very young so this is not an issue for us yet. But my plan is as late as possible and preferably 16 years of age. Smartphones provide access to an adult world that I want to protect my children from for as long as possible.

- Denise

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More Parents Panel: What’s the trickiest parenting dilemma you’ve ever faced?>

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