Should I let my child use my phone?

Picture this…You’re in a waiting room for way longer than expected, and your preschooler has already exhausted the books and toys that are available. They’re getting antsy and frustrated, and you aren’t sure how much longer you’ll need to wait. You pull up a video on your phone to keep them occupied until your appointment starts.

Or imagine you’re at a family gathering that’s going later than planned. Your pre-teen has an assignment due for school the next day, and asks to use your phone since they don’t have their computer with them. You wonder if it’s alright to hand over your own phone so they can work on their assignment and not be up so late when you get home. No matter your child’s age, you’ve probably asked yourself the question, in so many different situations. So what’s the answer?

Is it OK to let my child use my phone?

These types of situations can happen often with kids of all ages, regardless of whether they have their own personal device or not. Unexpected situations arise, schedules change, batteries die, and sometimes a parent’s phone is the only option for keeping kids occupied, allowing them to communicate, or accessing information.

In these moments, letting your child use your phone can seem like a good solution in the moment. However, there are downsides to consider and several important things parents need to keep in mind before handing over their device to a child of any age. 

We love black and white answers to things in life – especially when it comes to parenting our children! Unfortunately, as with most things related to raising kids, there is no right or wrong answer to whether you should allow your child to use your phone. There are, however, many important factors to consider around whether it’s appropriate to hand your device to your child. While it can certainly be a convenient option some of the time, you need to be conscious of what they may be exposed to – not to mention what personal information of yours they might see!

Can I let my child watch videos on my phone?

There are times when it’s convenient and beneficial to allow your child to watch videos on your phone. You might be dealing with an unexpectedly long wait time somewhere, a car journey that feels eternal, or their device has broken or lost its charge, or any number of other unexpected situations that can arise where it’s appropriate to allow your child some time with videos on your phone. 

Before you hand them your device, however, it’s important to consider the following:

  1. Check to make sure you have auto-play turned off on YouTube or any other platform, app, or streaming site they may be using.

Remember that your device is going to recommend videos and other content based on your watching habits – not your child’s. If the auto-play feature is enabled it may mean your child is exposed to videos or content recommendations you’d rather them not see. You can adjust these settings on YouTube to keep kids safer on your device and theirs. 

  1. Be aware that the privacy and content controls you have on your child’s devices are likely not on your own devices. 

This means your child can be exposed to content via web browser, YouTube, and other searches that are not aligned with their age and developmental level. If they are going to use your phone for video-watching make sure you select the video and monitor what they’re doing while viewing, or turn on restrictions and content limits while they are using the device. 

  1. You likely don’t have time limits set up on your device.

This means your child could end up consuming a lot of videos if you aren’t monitoring the time. Set a timer on the phone or watch with them to ensure they aren’t getting more time than you realize, especially if they are viewing while you’re doing other things.

should i let my child use my phone?

Is it OK to let my child use social media on my phone?

With each passing week the inherent dangers of social media for children and teens are becoming clearer. The increasing amount of research on children and social media has recently led the US Surgeon General to issue an advisory citing concerns about the profound mental health risks posed by social media for children and adolescents. The question of whether to allow kids access to social media platforms at all is a complex one that requires consideration of many factors

When it comes to allowing them to use social media apps on your phone, children under the age of 13 should not be engaging with these apps. If there’s a funny video, meme, or other item you and they want to look at together on your social media account then that’s fine. But steer clear of allowing your kids to use your social apps without direct supervision and collaboration with you. 

Content concerns aside, you open yourself up to them seeing your activity, messages, and other potentially private information that you likely would prefer they didn’t! 

Pros and cons of letting your child use your phone

As with all things related to devices, digital media, and children, there are pros and cons to consider around allowing them access to your phone. In general, you need to consider your child’s age and developmental level, the kinds of apps you have on your phone, their track record of responsibility, and your ability to monitor what they’re doing on your device.

Some pros of allowing your child to use your phone could include:

  • You always have your device with you, so it’s convenient to let your child use it when you’re out of the house and they don’t have their device with them (or the battery has died).
  • You may not want to manage individual devices for your children, so allowing them to use yours periodically can be a good solution. This way they can access apps and media on your terms, without having access via their own devices the rest of the time.
  • Typically, you will be in the same place when they’re using your phone. This means you can engage with media together, which allows for communication, shared enjoyment, and discussion of what is and isn’t appropriate.
  • Since it’s your device, you can easily set content, time, and other limits as desired depending on how you want your child using it. 
  • If your child is using your phone and comes across something concerning, inappropriate, or new to them, it’s an opportunity to have a healthy discussion. 

Using your phone can be an opportunity for opening up conversations about these things, as well as laying out your expectations for their use of your phone should you allow them access. Communicating with kids about what they’re being exposed to, how they’re feeling about what they’re seeing online, and what they are discovering intentionally or accidentally is a key part of helping our kids develop a healthy relationship with digital devices and media. 

On the other hand, there are multiple negative points to consider before simply handing over your phone to your child.

The cons of letting your child use your phone:

  • Because your phone is easily accessible, children may request to use it often.

This can be at the expense of doing other activities that could keep them occupied. This is problematic, as children benefit from being bored, learning to wait, and finding other non-digital ways to occupy themselves. Parents may hand over the phone as a first resort to keep kids quiet and occupied, as opposed to encouraging other forms of activity. Research clearly shows that overuse of devices is a mental and physical health concern for children, so you will want to keep this in mind. 

  • If you don’t have controls set up (as most parents do not on their own device) your children will have access to the full range of everything online and in apps. 

This means they may see things in search results, videos, and other content that are not appropriate for kids. If you aren’t sitting with your child and watching what they’re doing on your phone, it’s easy for them to use or view things that you’d prefer they not have access to.

  • Your device is likely customized to you, and doesn’t have content controls customized to the age/developmental level of your child. 

If you have multiple children using your phone this gets tricky because you can’t customize settings according to what’s best for each of them. Qustodio is my recommended parental control tool, and it can be set up on your phone as well as devices for your children. This is something to consider if you will be allowing your child more frequent access to your device.

  • Parents use their phone for many different things, including emails, texting, banking, social media, shopping, and much more. 

Therefore, it’s possible that your child may see private information while using your device. Consider whether you’d be comfortable with them seeing incoming texts and other messages, DMs in social media, emails, photos, etc. If not, then it’s best to have them not use the device, or turn off notifications and restrict access to certain apps and tools while they’re using it.

  • You may have payment methods stored in your phone wallet, shopping or banking apps, or other places on your phone.

This could lead to your child making intentional or unintentional purchases while they have possession of your device. Talk with your child about the rules and expectations for this, and either directly supervise them or turn off options for them to make purchases.

The decision about letting a child use your phone is one that requires thoughtful consideration, beyond just the convenience of it. By understanding the potential pros and cons, setting clear expectations, and monitoring your child’s use, you can help ensure a safe, healthy, and convenient experience for everyone.

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