Your child’s ready for their first phone – are you?

Parenting Place first phone

So, you’ve reached the stage where your child wants a phone. Not a plastic phone that squeaks, not an old phone that doesn’t actually work but was a fun addition to the toy box, and not a phone made of cardboard and stickers (all things that may have appeased them in the past). They want an actual, connected, working phone of their own. It feels like just yesterday they were happy enough colouring in pictures of Bluey and swinging from monkey bars... Cue sentimental sigh.

For our young people, phones means connection. If you’re anything like me, you can’t help but reflect on what connection looked like ‘back in the day’... like jumping on your bike to go visit your bestie or handwriting notes and dropping them in your crush’s letterbox. Or – how quaint – using a landline to dial your mate’s number (memorised, of course) and make a plan or just talk (probably about nothing).

Okay, enough nostalgia. Times have changed and mobile phones feel like a must-have. But when? And what type? And how do we manage them with our kids? There are several social and safety issues to consider before jumping on your bike and heading off to the shops to buy your kid their first phone. So, let’s chat.

When's a good time?

“But ALL of my friends have one!”

It can be tempting to compare what your child has with what your child’s peers have, and feel you need to ensure they keep up. (Your child will no doubt be very helpful here, keeping you updated with everything everyone else has and all the stuff everybody else is allowed to do.) However, research suggests that delaying giving kids a phone – especially a smartphone – for as long as possible is the ideal approach.

A blanket ban on phones until your child leaves home is probably unrealistic (but please let us know if you manage to achieve this, and how!). At some point, you and your child will agree – it's time for a phone. There’s no one-size-fits all here. Readiness will relate to your child’s maturity, their sense of responsibility, maybe even their ability to spell ‘responsibility’ without using predictive text. Before they have their own phone, a young person will ideally have some skills on board for regulating their emotions; they’ll have an understanding of the concept of privileges; they’ll have a proven track record of looking after valuable things.

Readiness will relate to your child’s maturity, their sense of responsibility, maybe even their ability to spell ‘responsibility’ without using predictive text.

Parents often use one of these moments to ‘own the phone’:

1. When a significant time is being marked

One option is to give your child their first phone to mark a significant birthday or the start of a new year at school. Owning a cell phone requires a lot of responsibility, and so using that responsibility to mark a rite of passage can actually be a powerful symbol of trust between you and your child.

2. When logistics and safety call for it

Another option is to give them a phone as they become more independent, and you need to stay in touch. Perhaps your child has to get themselves to after-school sports or activities, perhaps they walk home from school or catch several buses. In situations like these, logistics and safety is a big consideration.

Old phone, new phone, red phone, blue phone

Once you’re happy with the decision for your child to have their own phone, you’re immediately faced with more decisions. Isn’t parenting fun!? Phone ownership requires some strategic thinking – you’ll want to explore costs, WiFi access, apps, who’ll pay for a replacement if the phone gets lost of broken, what platform you’ll use for the family group chat and how many cheesy memes can you send your kid before they ghost you. Critical things like that.

In terms of the actual phone, here are your three main options:

1. Give them an old phone

Let your child experience the joy of hand-me-downs by giving them somebody’s frustratingly slow and slightly broken phone. For most kids, any phone is better than no phone. However, a secondhand phone might not be the right phone for your family if it still has the powerful ability to access the internet, perhaps giving your child more freedom than they can handle.

Brace yourself - this might sound like a bold statement: kids don’t need smartphones.

2. Give them a dumb phone

Brace yourself - this might sound like a bold statement: kids don’t need smartphones. True story! Smartphones are expensive, and they give our young people access to a world wide web they neither need nor have the smarts to manage.

Interestingly, there is an increasing trend for Gen Z’s and millennials to opt for back-to-basics 'dumb phones' - often flip phones - with simple call and texting functionality but no internet access. In fact, teenagers themselves are realising the toll that being constantly pinged by notifications has on mental health, sleep, anxiety and relationships.

A dumb phone is basic, it’s like a cellphone with training wheels. It gives kids some connection, without the risks and pressures of social media and the internet. So yes, a dumb phone can be a smart option. Plus, it takes out much of the risk and challenge we face as parents when giving our kids a phone.

3. Give them a new smartphone

We all have a deep desire to belong; it's especially strong when we're young. I remember in the 90s, it was the kid with the latest rollerblades, smoothest chatter rings or oldest living Tamagotchi who got the most respect from their friends. Today it's all about phones. It’s common to see kids sitting around talking about the latest iPhone, and the owner of that iPhone looking pretty chuffed with themselves. However, there are a few problems with going for the top shelf.

Do we want our kids to develop a sense of self-worth and popularity based on what they own? And what happens when the next iPhone model is released - do you need to upgrade every time?

I get it, there are some great things about smartphones. I find mine super handy. But as exciting as all this technology is, our kids’ brains are not yet capable of the risk assessment needed to safely navigate the minefields and rabbit holes a smartphone provides easy access to.

Managing who your child is connected to, and what content they are exposed to, is a difficult task without a smartphone in the mix. When choosing a phone for your child, make the decision that best suits your family's values and needs. Personally, as my own kids approach the phone-ownership stage, I’m super excited that the flip phone might just be making a comeback…

Phone in hand, now we need to talk ‘Netiquette’

Kids with phones need boundaries. 100%. Bedtimes, manners, tech-free time, app access, safety and limits are some of the things to set rules around. You could also download and use one of these contracts with your child when negotiating the terms of their first device.

Bedtimes, manners, tech-free time, app access, safety and limits are some of the things to set rules around.


A legitimate concern for young people today is how much time they spend online, and the impacts this can have on their sleep. It’s unlikely a tween or even a teenager has the self-regulation skills to consistently make good decisions about when to put devices away at night. It's important we help with that.

Many experts and researchers in the field recommend that phones are kept out of kids bedrooms at all times, especially at night.


First phones are a good time to talk about online manners, especially if smartphones are involved. Navigating a complex digital landscape can be tricky for our kids, but we can simplify things with the ‘Golden Rule' of the internet:Treat others online as you'd like to be treated. (Plus the extra stuff, like reply to Grandma’s texts as soon as possible, and never leave your mum on ‘seen’.)

Teaching our kids how to set boundaries with their friends is also really important. Some of their friends may have unlimited access to their phone, putting pressure on your child to be responsive at all times. Giving your child time frames within which they can use their phone can help with this, and it’s okay if they blame their slow replies on the family rules! In fact, prepping them with some language around boundaries is a great way to help them manage the stress of friend demands.

• “I’m only allowed on my phone between 7am and 8pm, so message me then."

• “I have an early training in the morning, I need my beauty sleep.”

• “My parents turn the WiFi off between these hours, so I can’t reply until X time.”

Things can often be misinterpreted in a text and sometimes it’s better to pick up the phone and have a conversation if group chats are going pear-shaped.


Talking to our kids about what to do when group chats get toxic is also important, as it’s highly likely they will face this at this some point. And it’s an ongoing conversation – checking in with our kids about what’s happening on their phone, reminding them that things can often be misinterpreted in a text and that sometimes it’s better to pick up the phone and have a conversation if group chats are going pear-shaped.

Let your kids know it’s okay to leave a text conversation if someone is being mean, offensive or you just feel uncomfortable. Giving them a good excuse to help them leave is helpful too, "Mum keeps nagging me to come and help her with dinner, talk later" is an easy option. “GTG” for a shorthand version.


The internet is very much an unregulated place. Make use of the parental controls and safety features on your child’s phone, and set up filters for your home WiFi to protect your kids from the worst stuff.

Parental controls are important and helpful, but ideally we are also supporting our kids to make good decisions for themselves because they recognise the right thing to do - not simply because we're tracking their every move. I like the saying, Be a mentor, more than a monitor. Parental guidance over parental controls.

Be a mentor, more than a monitor. Parental guidance over parental controls.

Walk the talk

Phones are a game-changer when it comes to connection and communication – in good ways and not-so-good ways! Phone addiction is a real struggle, and as parents we need to model healthy screen time. It’s important we set the standard by putting our phone down to look at our kids when they talk to us, being present and engaged in family life, and not constantly ‘escape scrolling’ or jumping to check notifications.

Holly Jean Brooker

Holly Jean Brooker

Holly Jean Brooker works as a PR Specialist, Writer and Presenter for Parenting Place. She is a mum of two, runs her own marketing consultancy business and has a background in high school education where she specialised in health and social sciences. Holly is co-founder of

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