At what age should you buy your child a cell phone?

Investigator Moe McClanahan has a few recommendations for what age your child should have a cell phone and rules to implement when that time comes. Simply put, nobody under the age of 13 should have a smartphone.


The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act states, “This Act protects children’s privacy by giving parents tools to control what information is collected from their children online. The Act requires the Commission to promulgate regulations requiring operators of commercial websites and online services directed to children under 13 or knowingly collecting personal information from children under 13 to: (a) notify parents of their information practices; (b) obtain verifiable parental consent for the collection, use, or disclosure of children’s personal information; (c) let parents prevent further maintenance or use or future collection of their child’s personal information; (d) provide parents access to their child’s personal information; (e) not require a child to provide more personal information than is reasonably necessary to participate in an activity; and (f) maintain reasonable procedures to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of the personal information. In order to encourage active industry self-regulation, the Act also includes a “safe harbor” provision allowing industry groups and others to request Commission approval of self-regulatory guidelines to govern participating websites’ compliance with the Rule.” Many apps ask for a date of birth and have a 13-year-old age limit. This is to protect your children, however, many will use a fake date of birth.


Once you give them a smartphone but block their access to social media, beware that many kids are often able to get around these parental blocks. To ensure you have control, do not get them a smartphone. Flip phones still exist and are a great way to communicate! For kids over 13, make sure you have rules and guidelines for your child so they know your expectations. It is important to have difficult conversations with your child so they know they can come to you when there is a problem. Some parents actually create a cellphone/electronics contract that lists out the rules expected of their child. This allows the child to have a written guideline and consequences of their actions.


If you allow your child to have a smartphone, here are a few rules:


1. Never allow a smartphone in a bedroom or bathroom. Most inappropriate activity happens in the middle of the night in the bedroom or bathroom.


2. Implement a monitoring system. You can go through your provider to see what type of monitoring they offer. Typically, they will offer to monitor contacts, text messages, and phone calls. However, most of our kids are communicating through apps. Implement an additional monitoring app such as Bark, Net Nanny, My Mobile Watchdog, and Life 360. Recently as an investigator, I was chatting with a man who believed he was talking with a 13-year-old girl online. He traveled over 45 minutes to meet me, thinking I would be a 13-year-old girl home alone. Learn more about his arrest here. This can happen to the children in your neighborhood. Equip your child with the tools and education they need so this does not happen to them.  Check out free resources Safe Surfin has for parents at children at


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The mission of the Safe Surfin’ Foundation is not only to protect youth from those who would do them harm, but pro-actively educating them in the safe and responsible use of today’s ever-changing technology. Together, we’re improving and saving lives. Help us continue educating kids online by donating today.