That can't-live-without item on your middle schooler's list this year is not a dollhouse, a train set, a pony, or an Xbox. It's a smartphone. But before you dive the depths of department store dilemmas, here are 5 key things to consider when figuring out if your child is ready for a smartphone.

1. Purpose

For you as a parent, what is the point of your child having a smartphone? Think about whether this purpose could be achieved through a basic call-and-text phone without all the bells and whistles of a smartphone. Think about what drives the need for a phone. Is it for communication with family, connection with peers, conformity to social pressure, games, social media, or even all of the above? Determine the “why” behind having a smartphone before getting into the “when.”

2. Boundaries

Once you have identified the purpose, consider boundaries. Look at the convenience that smartphones offer, and look at your child's maturity. With more freedoms and responsibilities of growing up, your middle schooler will also be facing more outside influences, temptations, and risks. Strongly consider setting boundaries with parental controls, screen time limits, and internet monitoring. Picking up a smartphone at any age involves being faced with dozens of choices and opportunities for decision making. Remind your middle schooler that privacy is built on trust–it is a privilege, not a right. As the parent, you have the authority to check your child's smartphone usage, at any time. Talk with your child about using technology in healthy ways, focusing on awareness, ownership, freedom, and responsibility.

3. Security

In a media culture where essentially anything can be Googled or searched, your child's safety is at risk online. By setting restrictions like internet monitoring, website filtering, and ad blocking, this risk can be reduced. Cyberbullying, inappropriate messaging, and pornography are three examples of dangers commonly encountered on unsupervised or ill-used smartphones. Family discussions and open communication about good versus bad decision making and media discernment can also help your child avoid the dangers and pitfalls of smartphones. And should something inappropriate or questionable pop up on your child's smartphone, let your child know that they can come to you about it for guidance and wisdom.

4. Social media

Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok are three popular social media platforms that rely on visual and auditory content exchanged between friends and followers. Users can search for any number of topics, tune their feeds to their tastes, and make the choice to either archive or delete posts, stories, and messaging content. Again, with freedom comes responsibility, and with those come influences, temptations, and risks. With the social aspect of these forms of media, users can keep in contact with and often follow the daily lives and escapades of friends, family, and others including celebrities, social movements, causes, and organizations. Distractions abound via the continuous buzz of photos, videos, and reels. Dissatisfaction and insecurities are also potential problems brought on by the number of likes, hearts, followers and following, and comparisons with others. Create a culture in which your child feels safe and supported by coming to you about their technology.

5. Health

A smartphone can be a vehicle of opportunity, opening up different methods of communication, channels for sharing, and forms of entertainment. But it can also be a vehicle for distraction and dissatisfaction. Too much screen time too close to bedtime can disrupt your child's sleep patterns. Back and neck pain can result from too much bending over a device, commonly known as “tech-neck.” Face-to-face relational and communication skills can also change from the domination of on-screen interactions. Anxiety and depression can increase with the introduction of comparisons of selfies and social media post content; assumption of value from likes, follows, and comments; and other forms of media use (or misuse). Be there for your child. Let them know that all of these limits and boundaries are designed to ensure their safety, health, and growth into responsible and free young people.

The social pressure to conform is real and often unrealistic. Reaffirm your child's God-given value and worth, despite all the expectations and comparisons. Be encouraged to let your kid be a kid. Be encouraged to wait for them to mature. A phone can be a great relationship tool and affirmation that your child is growing up. But does it need to be now? Does it need to be a smartphone? With these 5 things in mind, consider whether a smartphone is indeed a smart phone for your middle schooler.

Summer Senn currently serves as a substitute teacher for Lower and Middle School at Legacy Christian Academy. She strongly believes in a Christian education that encourages students to bring glory to God in whatever they do.

Legacy Christian Academy is Frisco's preeminent Pre-K through 12 Christian school committed to educating students in a college preparatory environment balanced in academics, athletics, and fine arts–all within the context of a biblical worldview. For more information on Legacy, visit our admissions page.