Guiding Lights: Navigating the Waters of Smartphone Ownership for Children

Today, smartphones are ubiquitous. Common Sense Media’s survey from 2021 revealed a remarkable statistic: nearly half of American children own a smartphone by the age of 10, with the figure rising steeply to 91% by age 14. While these pocket-sized computers offer numerous benefits, they also expose children to various potential hazards. It’s a situation that calls for a balance of wisdom, discernment, and a steadfast adherence to our Christian values.

When it comes to introducing technology into our children’s lives, the guiding principle should not be to insulate them entirely from the world, nor to expose them naively to all its complexities. As Christian parents, our sacred duty is to not yield to the norms of this world (Rom. 12:2), including the norms of smartphone usage. It’s important to consider the right time to introduce this technology, keeping in mind the potential pitfalls and responsibilities associated with it.

Before we jump on the smartphone bandwagon for our children, it’s worth considering these four questions:

  1. Is there a genuine need for your child to have a smartphone? We’ve seen a significant shift in our attitude towards technology—from a tool serving particular functions to a source of ceaseless entertainment. Although smartphones offer practical applications, their predominant use among children leans toward games and media consumption. Parents, therefore, should ask: “Is it necessary for my child to have a smartphone?”
  2. Is your child mature enough to handle a smartphone responsibly? We wouldn’t hand over the car keys to a teenager without ensuring they are prepared to handle the responsibility of driving. In many ways, smartphones are similar. They hold immense power and potential for misuse. It’s crucial to assess whether your child is mature enough to deal with potential distractions and inappropriate content.
  3. Are you ready to have meaningful conversations about smartphone use? Good communication is pivotal in parenting. Children often see the advantages of having a smartphone, but may be oblivious to the associated risks. As parents, it’s our responsibility to communicate our family values, explain our concerns, and set clear guidelines for responsible smartphone use.
  4. Are you setting a good example when it comes to smartphone usage? As Christian parents, our conduct sets a precedent for our children. Are we practicing what we preach? If we are concerned about our children’s screen time, we should also examine our habits. The apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12 is highly relevant here—we must lead by example.

Indeed, a smartphone can be a tool that aids your child’s spiritual growth, or it could serve as a gateway to sin, temptation, and harmful habits. The ownership of a smartphone should be regarded as a privilege, not a necessity.

Therefore, let’s approach this matter with wisdom, caution, and discernment, ever mindful of our calling as parents and our commitment to guiding our children along the path of righteousness. Let us not hesitate to seek counsel from other Christian parents who have navigated these waters before us. Remember, wisdom is a treasure trove that the Lord generously provides to those who seek it (James 1:5).