Children's First Cell Phones: Parents’ Perspectives on Risks and Benefits
By David Bickham, Elizabeth (Libby) Hunt, Jill R. Kavanaugh, and Michael Rich.
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CHILDREN AND PHONES
Parents reported playing an active role in buying and setting up their child's first cell phone
of parents said that their child has their own phone
of parents bought their child’s first phone brand new
of parents helped set up their child’s first phone
The average age parents reported getting their child a phone was 10 years old
Staying connected and safe were major factors behind parents letting their child have their own phone
Parents demonstrated substantial and varied involvement in how they monitor their child's phone
use parental controls to limit the amount of time their child can access certain apps on their phone
use parental controls or app store controls to remotely monitor what their child is doing
of parents know the code to unlock their child’s phone
Parents reported that they monitor the following uses of their child’s phone:
Parents regularly use built-in controls and apps to monitor their child's phone
of parents turned on or installed parental controls when their child got their phone
of parents look at their child’s phone to see what they’re doing
of parents have rules in place about where, when, and for how long their child can use their phone
Parents of children who do not have phones showed more concerns than parents of children with phones
Children without phones were typically younger, and their parents were in no rush to give them one
Only a quarter of these parents report that their child has a smart watch or other mobile device (not a tablet)
Average age of children with phones
Average age of children without phones
Parents of younger children plan to buy their child a phone around the age of 12
of these parents reported that their child has asked them for a phone
Methodology and Results Summary
Nowadays, it is no longer a question of if you will get your child a cell phone, but when. Phones have become essential tools for social connection, but there is a tension between staying connected and managing screen-time, the risk of accessing inappropriate content, and concern about impacts on physical and mental well-being. Thus, the decision to get a child a phone comes with careful consideration of everything from how the phone can keep their child safe to what rules they should have about app use and screen-time. The goal of this survey was to explore the factors of that decision-making process from a diverse sample of parents. By understanding parents’ motivations, hopes, and concerns regarding their child’s phone ownership, we can identify the types of information that would be helpful for them as they navigate this choice.
The findings of this report are from an online survey of parents conducted in July and August 2021 that also covered issues related to children’s return to school (see relevant findings here). This section of the survey sought to better understand the research question: “What are parents’ beliefs, behaviors, and concerns regarding their child’s cell phone ownership?”
The results reported here come from a nationwide online survey of 1,447 parents of children in grades K-12. Participants were recruited through Alchemer, an online research service that partners with over 350existing survey panels with a total reach of over 437 million users worldwide. Adults (18+) in the United States with a child in grades K-12 were invited to respond. A variety of quotas, including grade of child, race/ethnicity, annual household income, and type of school were used to obtain a broadly diverse sample. The breakdown was as follows:
- By grade: Parents of children in elementary school (K-1, 18.4%; 2-4, 24.6%), middle school (5-8, 28.3%),and high school (9-12, 28.6%).
- By race/ethnicity: 64.6% White/non-Hispanic; 12.8% Black/non-Hispanic; 4.1% Asian; 13.2%Hispanic/Latino; and 5.1% mixed race or other.
- By annual household income (HHI): HHI < $50K (42%); HHI $50K – $99K (29.3%); and HHI > $100K(26.8%)
- By type of school: Public school (79.9%), charter school (6.8%), private school (7.7%), and homeschool(5.5%)
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