Study: 1-in-10 UK 5-year-olds have mobile phones

Child with phone

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When they turn 5 years old, most children are just learning to tell time. However, kids may soon have to learn to master synchronizing Google Now’s reminder functionality with the Keep app. That’s because a tenth of all 5-year-olds are given mobile phones, at least according to a new UK study.

The study, conducted by uSwitch.com, found that 11 is the average age a British child receives their first mobile phone; however, a not-insignificant minority of 5-year-olds also are the proud owners of a mobile phone for the first time.

A direct comparison to US kids is a bit harder to suss out, as the kindergarten age group hasn’t been closely scrutinized by researchers. A 2012 study from AT&T found that 12 is the average age for American teens to get their first cell phone, while a 2011 study found 20 percent of third graders own a cell phone. Neither study focused on the pre-school/kindergarten set, though.

One reason to suspect that phones may be more ubiquitous in the hands of children across the pond it costs far less to own a smartphone in the UK than in just about anywhere else in the world. According to our survey, the cost of owning a smartphone over the course of two years in the UK is up to a grand cheaper than other major markets.

The study also found that the average UK child (or more likely, their parents) spend £11 ($17) a month on mobile costs and £125 ($195) on the handset, with 16 percent of teenagers having more expensive models than their parents.

When is the right age?

While parents certainly enjoy the security of knowing that they can contact their children at any time, preschool may be the very minimum age of when it is developmentally correct for kids to get their first phone. Putting aside all questions regarding privacy, security, and bullying, kids 5 and younger learn better in an actual rather than virtual environment. According to a learning designer quoted on PBS’s parenting blog: “Children under two years of age learn best from real-world experiences and interactions, and each minute spent in front of a screen-based device when your child is not exploring the world using their senses.”

“Kids should get their first cell phones when starting middle school.” According to Dr. Kathleen Clarke-Pearson, a past member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ council on Communications & Media. As a mother, former Elementary School teacher, and current practicing pediatrician (not representing the AAP which has yet to issue a policy statement on the subject), she recommended via email that parents wait until after Elementary school. “That is a time when children will be establishing some increased independence from their parents and the cell phone is an excellent way to promote solid communication.”

“The parent(s) should have some good conversations with the child prior to securing the phone so the standards they are setting are fully understood by the child.  These include their expectation that the child is RESPONSIBLE and TRUSTWORTHY enough to use the cell phone wisely.”

If parents do decide to get a cell phone for their child, Dr. Clarke-Pearson recommends that “every night, the phone should be "parked" in a designated central room in the home so that the child can get appropriate sleep without the temptation to continue texting.” While parents will certainly desire the ability to get in touch with their kids at all time, Dr. Clarke-Pearson “strongly suggests that the child's initial phone is NOT a smart phone but a regular cell phone whose major purpose is communication with family and friends.”



Editor's Note: Article updated at 11:53 a.m. PT to include a quote from Dr. Clarke-Pearson

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