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At what age should I give my child a mobile phone?

Ask the Expert: Having a rule of ‘no phone until secondary school’ is a very reasonable goal, though frequently this decision is not just an individual family one


My daughter was 12 last week and she is already starting to pester me about getting a mobile phone. She sees her older sister on her phone all the time and thinks she deserves one. Also, it seems one of her classmates got one over the summer and this has added to the pressure. Her sister did not get a phone until secondary school and I am holding that line (she is going into sixth class in September). My sister is going through the same process with her daughter, though so far the girl is not putting as much pressure on my sister about getting one.

At what age do you think children should get a mobile phone?


There are some benefits to children having a phone, such as parents being able to contact them when out, and them being able to keep in touch with friends directly. However, there are also downsides, such as addictive over-use and the possible problems of self-esteem associated with early social media access. The Surgeon General in America recently issued a national warning about the “profound risk of harm to the mental health and wellbeing of children and adolescents” of social media, which is primarily accessed via smartphones.

As a result, it is worth delaying smartphone ownership as long as possible and to wait until your child really needs access for social reasons. Having the rule of ‘no phone until secondary school’ is a very reasonable goal, though frequently this decision is not just an individual family one and depends on your children’s peer groups.


For example, one family I worked with only got their 12-year-old son a phone as they discovered he was missing out on the much-needed social communication and meet-ups with his drama group (all of whom already had a phone).

I was very impressed by the collective decision of a group of primary schools and parents’ associations in Wicklow to agree a “no smartphone code” for their children. Operating at a community level like this means no child misses out socially from not having a phone. Whatever you decide, below are some principles to help delay your daughter’s ownership and to promote safer usage when she eventually gets one.

Explore why she wants a smartphone

Take time to listen to your daughter about the reasons she wants a smartphone. Perhaps she wants to be treated like her sister, perhaps she feels isolated from friends or perhaps there are certain apps that she is really keen to use. Some of the reasons she has might be addressed without her owning a smartphone. For example, you could schedule her regular time on a shared family device to play games or watch YouTube or set her up with an email address to contact friends. You could also make extra efforts to contact friends’ parents and arrange meet-ups.

Start gradually and set limits

When you do decide to give her access to a phone, you can do this gradually. Some parents start with a non-smartphone that just allows text and phone calls for keeping in touch. If you do use a smartphone, there are safety controls on most devices that allow you to set time limits on apps (eg, a max of two hours daily, and no usage after 8pm). You can also start with blocking internet access completely, and when you do allow access, set controls to block adult or inappropriate sites. These features take a bit of time to set up but are well worth it, so you retain some control. You can also set house rules for good internet usage, such as no phones in bedrooms or at mealtimes, or other family-centred times.

Educate your child on phone use

Before you give your daughter a phone, take time to educate her on safety. Explain the importance of not giving out personal information or sharing photos, as well as the importance of being respectful when texting and on social media. Discuss what she might do if she comes across inappropriate material or if a peer is communicating disrespectfully, for instance. I would also suggest that you agree open access with her, which means you know her passwords to all apps and you set time aside with her to review her phone use. This sense that internet and social media usage should be transparent and can be checked by parents can add to a sense of safety for young users.

Finally, remember, mobile phones aren’t all about dangers and rules. Encourage your children to avail of the benefits in terms of new ways of connecting, learning and being entertained. Take an interest in your children’s social media and internet interests, and look for ways in which they can become a source of connection between you. You might develop a shared interest for online games, quizzes or videos, while texting and WhatsApp could open new methods of communication between you.

For more information on helping your children and teenagers be safe and get the most out of social media and the internet, have a look at or

John Sharry is clinical director of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. See and

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