13 May Be Too Late To Learn Good Online Habits
There’s no right age to introduce technology. So, start early.
Every time people ask me what’s the right age to give a child a smartphone, I struggle to answer without being obnoxious. I’ve been writing and talking about kids and screens for a very long time. At this point, some questions just irk me.
Recently, I gave an interview to the Spanish newspaper El País, whose editors decided to run it with the clickbait headline: Hay que darle un móvil a un niño antes de los 13 años (You have to give a child a mobile phone before the age of 13). Most of the time, screen time-related clickbait goes in the other direction — stoking moral panic about teen girls and body image, online predators, brain damage, addiction, or suicidal responses to cyber bullying — so, I took guilty pleasure in both the headline and the media spectacle it provoked. But to be clear, I never said anything about anyone being required to do anything before the age of 13.
I did, however, explain that the onset of puberty — a time when reckless and rebellious attitudes are developmentally appropriate — seems to me like a counterintuitive time to hand a kid a smartphone, particularly if you’re worried about social media, conformity, and self-confidence. Status seeking behaviors, body image concerns, and difficult identity struggles all tend to be a part of the adolescent social experience with or without a smartphone. Therefore, it may make sense to introduce kids to connected devices when they’re much younger; teach good habits before hormones and social pressures complicate parents’ capacity to scaffold guidance, model self-regulation, and set comfortable boundaries.
However, age is not a very good criterion to use for establishing a family smartphone policy. Movements like Wait Until 8th (a pledge parents take to NOT introduce smartphones to kids until 8th grade) seem, at best, arbitrary. At worst, they represent leftover Victorian paranoia, unconsciously displacing outdated, mistaken attitudes around sex and temptation to digital technologies. Every child has unique needs. And since there’s no dependable research establishing a causal link between smartphone exposure and toxic or developmentally hazardous effects, there’s also no good argument for allowing…