Kids Online: How Early Is Too Early?

Being a parent has never been easy. In the age of smartphones and social media, parenting has become even trickier. On top of all the typical duties and responsibilities moms and dads normally have, now they also have to take care of setting reasonable boundaries for various technologies.

One of the most commonly asked and also difficult-to-answer questions asked by parents is: at what age should a kid be allowed to access the internet? Let’s try to figure it out.

Children’s Exposure to the Internet

The trend is shocking.

It turns out, most modern kids start using the internet at the age of three. What is even more alarming is that around 80% of children have an online presence before they turn two. This is what happens if parents can’t resist sharing those cute pics of their kids on Facebook or Instagram and let kids use their accounts on social media with them. Basically, that’s how the first craving for the internet is formed.

By the time kids start attending school, they already spend, on average, two hours a day online (although most parents believe it is half that.)

Of course, the situation is exacerbated when kids get their first smartphone or tablet. Today, the average age for kids to get a smartphone is now 10.3 years.

Around the age of 11, most of kids already have accounts in social media (despite the fact that most social networks require kids to be at least 13 years old to be able to register).

Interestingly, the situation is slightly different for the US and Europe. Most kids growing up in European countries get their first cell phone a bit later than their American peers.

So When Is the Right Time For Kids to Go Online?

Before you start scanning this article for an exact answer, let us assure you:

There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

So when someone says that 9 years 5 months and 21 days is the perfect age for a kid to get his or her first gadget, don’t fall for it. Much like in every aspect of life, there is no perfect right answer and trying to find one is a dead-end road.

According to Bill Gates, however, the perfect age for kids to have a cell phone and become an active internet user does actually exist. He believes that 14 is the “safest” age for this. That sounds reasonable, Bill, but let’s face the reality:

Age is not the only factor that matters. Overall maturity and the level of responsibility are important, too. The level of trust between you and your child should also be considered.

If you are looking for a more concrete answer, however, our general advice is to not allow kids to have smartphones and unsupervised access to the internet until they turn at least 8 or 9. When they are this old, it will be much easier for you to teach them about online security basics, and they are aware enough to understand why such rules matter.

This does not mean, however, that your children should not have phones or any access to the internet before they turn 10. There is nothing wrong with buying them a simple cell phone they can use to get in touch with you. After all, it’s comforting for parents to know your kids are just a call or text away. It is also reasonable to allow your kids to use the internet for studying or playing games as long as their screen time is limited and online activities are monitored.

Fortunately, there are things like Parental Control, kid-safe browsers, and tablets designed specifically for kids. That’s why practicing internet safety for kids is not that difficult if you’re armed with the right information.

Should Internet Access Be Limited to Kids? Expert Opinions

If you’re still hesitant about what age is the right age for your kids to access the internet, see what experts say in this regard.

That very much depends on how mature, responsible, and trustworthy the child is. Even so, I would be looking over their shoulders until they’re adults, simply because the latest research shows that our brains don’t mature [fully] until our mid-20s.

Sara Carrillo, Educational Coordinator

I think a child should be with a parent when they go online for anything. An adolescent should be supervised, as in having a parent or adult in the room with them. What parents need to do is teach their children from the time they are very young how to think about things (critical thinking) and make decisions using their minds. Never do something because everybody else is doing it. We must all learn to be more responsible about ourselves and each other. We want our children to have freedom to be themselves, and this is how that is done.

Patty Mace, Parent Educator

Are your kids allowed to access the internet on their own? Do they have smartphones already? Do you limit their screen time? Please share your personal experience with our community.