At what age should kids get cellphones?


Dear Adele,

Our daughter is 10 years old and tells us that all her friends are getting cell phones. The pressure is on for us to buy her one too, as you might expect.

What do you think is the right age for a child to get a cell phone?



Dear Uncertain,

Setting limits and boundaries around the use of technology is a modern-day parenting challenge. You are wise to be asking this question about cell phones?

According to Pew Research Centre, most parents (45 per cent) think it is acceptable for children to have a phone between the ages of 12 and 14. 28 per cent think parents should wait until children are 15 to 17 years of age and 16 per cent think nine years of age is fine. The average age is between 12 and 13. Calgary’s parenting expert Judy Arnall states that the average age of getting a smartphone is 10. A 2014 report by MediaSmarts says that 24 per cent of Canadian children in grade 4 (age 9) have their own phone. A 2019 study by Common Sense Media reported that 19 per cent of eight-year-olds had phones and 80 per cent of teenagers aged 14 to 18 had their own cell phones. Bill Gates, the former CEO of Microsoft, did not allow his children to have phones until age 14. Dr. Michael Cheng, a psychiatrist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, suggests age 16.

You can see that there is little agreement on the subject about which you are inquiring, Uncertain. Besides age, there are many considerations to look at before purchasing your child a phone which you might want to reflect on before making a decision. I will itemize many of them below:

  • Why is the phone needed?
  • What is the maturity level of the child?
  • Does the child have healthy connections to others and openness with parents?
  • Will the cell phone overtake the child’s involvement in art, music, theatre, or sports, or will previous interests die out?
  • Can your child deal with the increased distractions and interruptions in his or her real life?
  • How responsible is the child not to lose the device, to follow set rules and limits, and not to harass or embarrass others?
  • Can the child understand the concept of costs for buying time, the expense for apps, music, and movies, and budget for a plan for the month?
  • Can your child understand safety issues associated with texting, contact with strangers, inappropriate sites, and the misuse of social media apps?
  • Can your child agree on rules and consequences for phone usage and follow a contract with you?
  • Are the functions on the phone suitable for a child of the age you are considering? Are you comfortable with your child having access to social media, the Internet, music, videos, texting, etc.?
  • Will cheating increase in your child’s educational process?
  • Is your child capable of understanding the impact of social media including cyberbullying and appropriate versus inappropriate postings?
  • Will you know the child’s passwords and track his/her activity?

In Today’s Parent, Dr. Cheng links the augmented use of mobile devices by kids to an increase in mental health issues and the need for services at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. He says that he sees youngsters addicted to technologies suffering from depression and anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. Some have poor connections to others and do not speak freely with their parents. Social media is stressful and needs to be overseen. Cellphones can cause a disconnect from “basic needs like sleep, nutrition, fresh air and physical activity . . . . a sense of belonging and meaning in life.” Social skills are learned in person, he says, by interacting face-to-face, fostering empathy, and interpreting facial expressions. As well, phones are sometimes used as child care providers or are unsupervised, and kids are exposed to unsuitable stuff.

Dr. Cheng adds, that If children are getting cell phones between the ages of 10 and 12 there should be stringent limits on how they are used. He thinks that it is preferable that there be no access to the internet. Excessive screen time is associated with unhealthy habits, obesity, and non-social activities, he says. Some children become overly dependent on validation from others. A British study showed that females are particularly susceptible and show more behavioural and emotional difficulties in their later teens. Dr. Chen is hoping that a minimum age for owning a smartphone will be legislated.

You might wish to gain support for the position of waiting, by joining a group such as Wait Until 8th. This group believes that if the children get a phone later, they will catch up quickly and that it is wise for parents to say ‘yes’ to smartphones waiting.

Articles worth reading on this subject, and which were helpful in constructing this column, include Today’s Parent’s ‘An Age-by-Age Guide to Kids and Smart Phones’ and Child Mind Institute’s ‘When Should You Get Your Child A Phone?

I will conclude with a few inspiring quotations:

My cell phone is my best friend. It's my lifeline to the outside world.” — Carrie Underwood

My kid’s idea of a hard life is to live in a house with only one phone. — George Foreman

Cell phones keep getting thinner and smarter, people become the opposite.— Unknown

Best wishes, Uncertain, with your decision.

Sincerely, Adele

I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.

Photo: Kaku Nguyen, Pexel