If you have a child or teen who does not already own a smartphone, then chances are that your child is asking (or begging!) you for a phone almost every day. You’ve probably heard that “everyone else has a smartphone,” that there are apps that your child or teen just must have, or that their social life will be over if they don’t get a smartphone soon.
While kids and teens can be persuasive when it comes to making an argument for having a smartphone of their own, and it can be tempting to get one for your child if for no reason other than to put an end to the constant begging, getting a smartphone for your child is a big step and one that should not be taken lightly. As a general rule of thumb, experts recommend waiting until a child is 14 before giving them a smartphone. However, given the challenges that come with having ADHD, many 14-year-olds with ADHD may not be able to handle the distractions and responsibilities that come with owning a smartphone.
The organization Wait Until 8th, which is dedicated to encouraging and empowering parents to wait until 8th grade to give their child a smartphone, provides factors for parents to consider when deciding whether or not to give their child a smartphone. Each of these factors represents an area of difficulty for most kids with ADHD:
If your child or teen struggles with any of these areas in their daily life without a smartphone, then the challenges will only be magnified once a smartphone is added into the picture. So, while many 14-year-olds may be ready for a smartphone, many (or most) 14-year-olds with ADHD will not be ready to handle this responsibility.
In addition to the readiness of the child or teen, parents should also consider their readiness to monitor and set limits around smartphone use. Are you ready as a parent to teach your child how to use a phone responsibly, to monitor when, where, and how they are using their phone every day, and to enforce rules and consequences consistently? Parenting a child or teen with ADHD requires more effort and energy than parenting a child without ADHD –we often say that parents of kids with ADHD are Super Parents given all that they take on in a day. With that in mind, consider whether you have the bandwidth to add smartphone management to your plate.
If you decide that your child or teen is not ready for a smartphone, what should you do? How do you avoid giving in to the pressure from your child or feeling like you are somehow hurting your child by denying them something that so many of their friends already have?
First, know that you are helping your child and not hurting them by holding out on giving them a smartphone. Many kids with ADHD need extra time to mature before they are ready for added responsibilities like having a smartphone, and it is your job as a parent to make some hard choices in order to set your child with ADHD up for success long-term.
Second, let your child or teen know that they will not be getting a smartphone any time soon, and no amount of whining, negotiating, or begging will change this. If your child or teen thinks there is even the slightest possibility that you will give in and get them a phone soon, they will continue to push and push in the hopes that you will come around. If they continue to push on the issue, consistently respond by telling them it is not open for discussion and then walk away. The briefer and more consistent you are in your response, the less time your child or teen will spend negotiating.
Lastly, if you and your teen need or want a way to stay in touch without a smartphone, purchase a simple flip phone. This will get the job done without introducing most of the risks and responsibilities that come with owning a smartphone. If you do think that your child or teen may be ready for a smartphone, then be strategic about how you introduce the phone and your rules for smartphone use
Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.
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This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.