The average age for a child getting their first smartphone is now 10.3 years

This week I ended up with an advance copy of Influence Central’s new report called Kids & Tech: The Evolution of Today’s Digital Natives. The report—which is a subsection from a larger, ongoing study of 500 women across the USA—details findings on the way that kids are using technology and reveals several interesting insights. The highlights include:

  • The average age for a child getting their first smartphone is now 10.3 years
  • Tablets have surged from 26% to 55% usage as kids’ device of choice during car rides. Smartphones trail at 45% (up from 39% in 2012).
  • 64% of kids have access to the Internet via their own laptop or tablet, compared to just 42% in 2012
  • 39% of kids get a social media account at 11.4 years. 11% got a social media account when they were younger than 10.

Additionally, some of Influence Central’s research paints a picture of parents who are relaxing a little bit about their kids’ access to the internet which is enabled by so many devices.

  • While 85% accessed the Internet from a room shared with the family in 2012, that number dropped to 76% today, and 24% now have “private” access from their bedrooms (compared to 15% in 2012.)

I had not heard of Influence Central prior to receiving this report, so I reached out with a few questions. Specifically, I asked company CEO/Founder Stacy DeBroff about the fact that when I Google the term “average age a child receives a cell phone” at least one report from 2015 pins the age at 6 or 7 years, not 10 (although there is some speculation out there about the legitimacy of that other report originally conducted by someone called vouchercloud).

In any event, DeBroff responded that while she can’t comment on other report findings, their own study was specifically focused on children’s smartphone ownership and not just feature phones or kid-specific phones. The question asked in their 70 question survey was actually “if you purchased a smartphone/cellphone for your child, what age was the child.”

She continued by saying that she felt like, in the past, mobile phones were merely used by kids to have voice contact with their parents. These days, kids increasingly use them for a host of activities beyond simple contact with parents like games or productivity, enabled by smartphones.

I also inquired why the study participants were only mothers and not also fathers? DeBroff replied that that was in order to maintain consistency with the 2012 report for which this was a follow up. It was not the same, exact 500 women in this new survey, but rather similar sample of women in the same life stage as the previous study.

Some things that remain unclear are whether this new-found smartphone ownership is also tied to independent wireless accounts (e.g. kids have their own phone numbers and data plans) or whether they are just hand-me-down smartphones using Wi-Fi capabilities. The survey question did not go into this level of detail.

Regardless, it makes sense to me that device usage would increase. With many adults getting new smartphones every year, there is surely an inventory of recent, capable smartphones going unused in households.

I also should note that Influence Central is a marketing agency — and their interpretation of the data is that kids’ mobile savvy is an important behavior for brands to consider as they think about how to communicate with them both now and in the future. Mobility is a way of life to which they are easily accustomed.

It is somewhat sad to me that my nostalgic memory of childhood—digging in the dirt, riding bikes or playing soccer, unattended, in the street—could be replaced by a portrait of kids who look just like their parents with their noses buried in a smartphone. At the same time, there is no denying that today’s kids are more capable than ever and are merely adapting to the tools available to them. To shun these tools also doesn’t make much sense.

I suppose it always just comes down to life balance. But as a smartphone junkie myself (and parent of a ten-year-old with a smartphone and data account), I’m not trying to be your spiritual advisor here about parenting dos and don’ts. But the data speaks for itself and it’s not going to do any good to ignore it.