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Tech Safety: Teens and Cell Phones

Amber Brandt  |  December 05, 2023

Many of us didn’t have our first cell phone until we were in our 20s, but our kids are growing up in a totally different world. There’s a lot to navigate for parents trying to determine whether their child is ready for more technology, and how best to keep them safe. We understand how overwhelming it can be, especially when there’s pressure to start younger and younger. That’s why we’ve pulled together some simple tech safety tips to help you wrap your head around it all – and most importantly, help them be smart and safe on-the-go. Here are answers to some of the most popular questions parents have around this issue:

When should you get your child a cell phone?

According to the Child Mind Institute, there’s no correct “age” at which you should get your kid a phone. Some parents buy them for 4th graders, others wait until middle school. The trick is their maturity, and what makes sense for their developmental stage. That said, according to Common Sense media, 42 percent of kids have a phone by age 10. By age 12, it’s 71% and by 14, it’s 91%. Experts largely advise waiting until 8th grade simply because of how addictive and risky they can be.

Jerry Bubrick, PhD, a clinical psychologist recommends considering the following questions when you’re auditing whether your child is “ready” for a phone:

  • How often do they lose things, especially expensive things? If you tell them something is important, do they take special care of it?
  • How well does your child handle money? Are they impulsive?
  • Does your child easily pick up on social cues? If they’re slower to catch on, it could be aggravated in texting or posting.
  • Does your child have ADHD? The constant stimulation of a phone can be a huge distraction especially for them.
  • How savvy is your child about technology?
  • Do they understand the long-term impacts of what they post online – that it will come back to haunt them when they’re applying to college or a job?
  • How well does your child do with screen time limits? If they have trouble with gaming, they’ll probably have trouble putting down a phone as well.

What’s the best way to keep them safe?

Parental controls are a parent’s best friend when it comes to their child’s smartphone usage. Using these controls, you can safeguard against which apps are downloaded to the phone, adjust settings for gaming, entertainment and social media and monitor their screen time. Experts also recommend instituting a parental control tool like Bark to monitor your child’s activity on social networks, YouTube, email and text. It filters for signs of harmful content and will alert you if there is anything concerning in your child’s activity. It can also be used to limit screen time and block individual websites. If you’re just diving into the cellphone world, here are some helpful tips from Scholastic for preteens and teenagers.

How long is too long to be on a device in one day?

For many years, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended just two hours of screen time a day or children and teens with none for children under 2. The AAP’s new recommendations acknowledge that technology is integrated into our everyday lives, and it’s more difficult to police. Recently updated guidelines focus on setting healthy boundaries that will prevent kids from using their devices in an unhealthy manner. If you’re looking for a new way to create boundaries check out this contract you can make between you and your tween.

Other helpful tips
According to, here are the top ten tips for keeping your child's behavior safe on their cell. And if all this feels super overwhelming, here's some good news from Standford University: their research did not find a connection between the age children acquired a first cell phone and their sleep patterns, depression symptoms, or grades.

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