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The Great Smartphone Debate 

Whether or not to give your child a smartphone, is a tough question most parents are facing at an alarming early age.

My daughter, Lucy, was days away from turning 13. Getting her a children’s toy for her birthday was no longer an option. Was it time to gift wrap a shiny smartphone to go along with a new outfit?

It’s the million-dollar question for parents: What is the right age to get a smartphone for your child?

Forty-two percent of 10-year-old kids in the U.S. have a phone, according to Common Sense Media. By age 12, it’s 71%, and by age 14, it’s 91%. But just because “everybody” has a smartphone doesn’t mean your child is ready for one. Here are a few tips that can help you wisely navigate this issue:

Have Prerequisites

Can you imagine your parents handing you something worth $800 to carry around in elementary or middle school and not lose? Before you give your child a smartphone, he or she should consistently exhibit a certain degree of responsibility.

As a way to gauge whether your child is mature enough for a smartphone, consider how she handles everyday life skills. Does she:

• pack school lunch every day?

• do laundry and help with household chores?

• complete homework and strive to earn good grades?

• get up when the alarm rings in the morning?

• cook full meals?

• manage money well?

• have the confidence to carry on a conversation with adults?

• accept full responsibility for personal hygiene without reminders?

• take care of pets?

If your child isn’t responsible with tasks like these, it’s unreasonable to think she will be responsible with a phone. She might proclaim with passion, “I promise I’ll do everything you say if you get me a phone.” Let her prove that by mastering these basic life skills before graduating to a smartphone.

Wait for the Right Time

Not only should your child be able to handle the responsibility of a phone, but it’s also important to wait for the right timing. These questions can help you determine whether your child is truly ready for a phone or needs to wait awhile:

• Does my child really need a smartphone right now?

• What problem(s) will a smartphone solve? What problem(s) will it create?

• Is my child prone to overusing a family member’s phone for gaming or social media?

• Will the phone enhance or be detrimental to my child’s spiritual development or growth?

• Will the phone support our family values or undermine them?

Choose Carefully

The decision to get your child a smartphone should not be taken lightly. You might say it’s a monumental shift from B.C. (before cellphone) to A.D. (after device). You’ve probably heard horror stories of perfectly nice kids turning sullen, withdrawn and irritable after getting phones.

According to Common Sense Media, 50% of teenagers admit they’re addicted to their smartphones. No doubt this has contributed to the dramatic uptick in mental health problems that we’re seeing among teens. Eighty-four percent of them use social media, but only 34% say they enjoy it “a lot.” Just scroll through the social media posts on a teen’s phone and you’ll see that the content is anything but godly.

According to the Barna Group, typical 15- to 23-year-olds take in 2,767 hours of screen media and only 153 hours of spiritual content (291 hours for churchgoing kids). What effect will owning a smartphone have on your child’s worldview and soul?

Kids with ADHD are especially vulnerable to getting sucked into a phone’s stimulating content. They are also more likely to be impulsive and post things they shouldn’t. Elementary-age children, in particular, are simply not equipped to dive into the internet, games and social media apps alone or with their peers guiding them.

Maybe you’re thinking about giving your child a smartphone for safety reasons. If you want your child to be able to reach you at any time and vice versa, there are some great safe-phone alternatives. Some of these phones allow you to text, call and see your child’s location with GPS without giving your child access to the internet, social media or games. Just as teens get a learner’s permit before a driver’s license, a safe phone can be a useful on-ramp to a smartphone.

Consider Opting Out

As parents, we’re advocates for abstinence when we talk to our teens about sexuality. However, we take a very different approach when it comes to the topic of technology. It seems inevitable that every child will get a smartphone sooner or later, so we don’t even consider opting out of giving them one.

My son Ethan never had a smartphone in high school, yet he made friends, was involved in leadership positions and earned good grades. He eventually got his first smartphone the summer before going to college.

Contrary to popular opinion, our kids can abstain from smartphones, gaming, and social media and still connect with friends and family. Perhaps we give our children too little credit. They are capable of much more than we think.

I decided not to give my daughter, Lucy, a smartphone for her 13th birthday. She won’t be getting her own phone until her senior year, or later, and she’s actually OK with that. She’s had a front-row seat watching her phone-free older siblings opt out of trouble and drama.

Your kids might say, “Mom, Dad, don’t you trust me?” While they may be trustworthy, the big-tech companies that created smartphones are not.

If you have doubts about giving your child a smartphone, opt for delaying. After all, taking away a smartphone is much harder than not giving your child one in the first place.

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