Richard Hogan: I wouldn't give a child a smartphone until they are at least 14 years of age 

The internet can be too hardcore for young minds
Richard Hogan: I wouldn't give a child a smartphone until they are at least 14 years of age 

Smartphones are a gateway to adult and hardcore content. Children should be at least 14 before they own one.

A dilemma for many parents this Christmas is whether or not to buy their child a smartphone. This is not something you should do lightly. Once your child has a smartphone, there is no going back.

I hear the same sentiment in my clinic, the regret of parents that smartphones were brought into their children's lives too early. I get asked by very confused and worried parents, 'What is the right age to give a child a phone?' This is such an important and pressing question for many parents at this time of year. The pressure on parents is considerable, too. It can be very unsettling to watch your child beg you for a phone, using the old, 'but all my friends have one' technique. 

The adolescence of their children is a difficult enough time for parents without them being obliged to buy a smartphone. But you must always look at the child you have before you and evaluate their ability to manage themselves. All children are different. We know this. So, an important question for a parent to ask is, 'Does my child have the maturity for all that a smartphone will bring into their life?' Some children will be able to navigate social media and the ubiquitous internet without any problems, because they can self-regulate, and because they can make the right decisions even when no one is watching them. 

But other children will find it very difficult, because they are impulsive and lack maturity and, so, make poor decisions. So, like I said, think about your child, and ask yourself, 'Will they be able to manage this world?' Because the internet is an incredible new world, and there are plenty of hazards in it that a child can fall into.

Richard Hogan
Richard Hogan

Software developer Bill Gates made his fortune from computers, yet did not allow his children to have a smartphone until they were into their mid-teens. And I think he was right. 

When parents ask me, 'What’s the correct age to give a child a phone?', I always say the same thing: 'It depends on the maturity of your child, but if you want a direct answer to that question, I wouldn’t give a child a smartphone until they are at least 14 years old'. 

Of course, children are getting smartphones in primary school. I see this all the time. But many children are also allowed to stay out late, too, and are allowed to go into town on their own. Do we allow our children to do the same just because others can? Of course not. 

Ask yourself what would you rather say: 'I wish I hadn't given my child a phone so early, because of all the trouble it brought into our lives'; or, 'Perhaps we were a little strict with the phone policy, but at least they were safe'. It  isn't about technology-bashing, but about understanding your child and their capacity to manage the trappings of technology.

Once they have a phone, children have access to anything they can imagine. Hardcore material is only ever a click away.

 Think about when we were children. If we wanted to view pornography, we would have to walk into a shop and ask for the magazine behind the counter. Most of us never even dreamed of doing that. In today's world, a child only has to think of something and, within one click, they are into that world. 

This is one of the main reasons I am always warning parents about the dangers of smartphones. The research is clear: If a child is vulnerable and they watch hardcore material, it can warp their sense of intimacy and dehumanise women. This has become a serious problem in schools, and an issue I'm seeing more and more in my clinic. If you are going to bring a smartphone into your child's life, talk with the shop first and research which apps will allow you to control their searches. The research tells us that a child that feels they are being supervised online is far less likely to undertake risky behaviour than a child that feels no one is watching them.

This Christmas, don't allow yourself to be pressurised into buying a smartphone for your child. Think about your child: Nobody knows them like you do. Are they mature enough for all that a smartphone will bring into their life, or do they follow the crowd and are easily influenced? 

A smartphone should never be bought for a child without a considerable amount of parental thought. Perhaps the most important decision you make this year will be to wait another year, when your children are just that little bit older and more mature.

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