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"Is There a Perfect Age to Get a Smartphone?" by David Eaton

An Axis Course On The "Everything Smartphone" Guided Toolkit

What if it’s not about when you do it, but how?

By David Eaton

“So, when should I get my kid a smartphone?”

This is the number one question that I get asked at Axis about phones.

And please rest assured, we are going to definitively answer that newly “age-old” question that arose in parent’s minds starting shortly after January 9, 2007 when Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone. But let’s see how others answer it first.

In his book, The Anxious Generation, Jonathan Haidt says that parents should wait until 9th grade for a “dumb” phone and age 16 for social media and smartphone access.

The Wait Until 8th organization answers the question in the name of their group, urging parents to wait until 8th grade.

In one survey, a group of teens suggested that adolescents should get their first phone between the ages of 12 and 13, out of “necessity.”

The general public in the United States answers this question with their wallets when they buy their 11.6 year old their first phone, according to Consumer Affairs.

So, let’s get to Axis’ immediate answer. Drumroll please. The answer to this dilemma is… it’s the wrong question.

At face value, that might sound discouraging. We 100% get that. So let’s be clear: It’s a natural question. It’s a good question. But it is perhaps the wrong place to start.

Phones are an astonishing tool. A tool that is complex, multi-faceted, and traverses many of the domains of the human experience including productivity, relationships, finance, leisure, travel, health, and in almost every way: connection.

So your kid will absolutely need your wisdom over time to learn how to use a phone (much like learning how to drive a car), and we are going to be here for you every step of the way.

Here’s why “When should I get my kid a smartphone?” is the wrong question. It makes two assumptions that are false.

False Assumption One: It assumes your kid has to go from having no phone to having full access to 100% of a phone. This assumes there will be a massive leap that happens on a Christmas morning or on a birthday when your kid gets a cellophane-wrapped box from the Apple Store with an iPhone in it instead of a gradual progression of gaining more responsibility over time.

The truth is there are many, many, many “training phones” that aren’t smartphones. And there are ways to slowly give your kid more rope, so to speak. They may start with only the ability to make a call and then gradually add texting, social media, an internet browser, etc. And for that “ramping up” process, we are here to help you to be confident, ahead, and equipped.

False Assumption Two: It assumes your kid doesn’t already have access to a phone… which is probably not true.

As a mom once said to us, “My kid is only as safe as their friends’ phones.”

Even if you hold out on your kid getting a phone until they are 18, they will be influenced by the content on their friends’ phones. They may even maintain a social profile on their friends’ phones.

Having a teenager in your home can be like having a live-in IT guy who is capable of hacking your entire system at any time. You can’t beat them. That’s why the most important thing you can do is not try to create a water-tight, sin-proof, phone decalogue.

The best set of laws, firewalls, and tech-savvy protections will never redeem your kid’s heart. What will is a heart-level, Holy Spirit-led connection between you and your teen.

Okay, so given those two false assumptions, what is our actual answer? What age is the best age to get your kid their first phone?

The Answer: We think you could get your kid their “first phone” during the middle school years (think 12 or 13). If they are young enough, they might even be excited to get a phone that is not an iPhone but one of the many products on the market that are designed to be a kid’s first phone.

Once you’ve moved past that “first phone,” there are many ways to limit a smartphone’s access to the more dangerous areas of the internet. We recommend and will show you how to slow-roll the App Store, internet browsers, social media, and how to talk about AI.

The most important recommendation from Axis with any phone is to provide clear expectations within your family. That means physically writing down or typing out how your family answers the eight phone domains we will mention later. This is not meant to be a contract written in blood, but a work in progress “same-page” document that can be referred to often.

You’ll be surprised at the generational differences assumed by you and your kid around phones. The non-negotiables, financial investment, location tracking, time limits, internet, App store, texting, and social media all need to be spelled out before that first phone gets unboxed. Even if it is informal, putting it in writing and making it public makes all the difference.

Finally, and this is an easy step to forget, your goal is for their phone to become fully their phone before they move out of your home. Start with the end in mind. You want them to grow in wisdom, responsibility, and self-awareness so that the phone becomes a great tool that serves them, enhances connection, and brings freedom into their lives.

It’s a process—but the most important part of that process is your relationship with your kid.

You are not adversaries. You are on the same team and together God will work through your family to help your kid grow in wisdom.

Oh, and for those of you who are asking, “But what if I already got my kid a phone… like four years ago?” We will help with that too in the next few pages.

You’ve got this. When you’re ready, let’s jump in.

David Eaton is the cofounder and CEO of Axis. His book, Smartphone Sanity, was one of the first to practically help families and not just raise an alarm about smartphones. When he isn’t traveling the country helping parents to have enriching, culturally-informed, faith-driven conversations with their teenagers, he’s loving the adventures and the mundane moments with his wife, Lindsey, and their three kids.