Kids These Days Get Their First Smartphones At 10 Years Old

22 percent more kids have Internet access on tablets or laptops now than four years ago

Can't read the user agreement; can download regardless — (REUTERS)
May 23, 2016 at 1:12 PM ET

It’s always 10 pm somewhere on the internet—do you know where your children are browsing? A new study from Influence Central reveals how internet exposure for children is skyrocketing, while their not-quite-digital-native parents are lagging when it comes to monitoring that access. Since 2012, the percent of children who have access to the internet on their own personal laptop, tablet or phone has shot up by 22 and 19 percent, respectively. The average age when kids get their first smartphones is now 10.3 years old.

While parents are becoming slightly more diligent in tracking their children’s physical whereabouts using GPS capabilities (15 percent of parents now do this, up from 7 percent four years ago), they’re remaining fairly lax when it comes to knowing where on the internet their kids are roaming. One and a half times as many parents allow bedroom access to the internet for their children now than did in 2012, but only four percent more parents are using online programs to control and filter out specific sites or platforms from their children’s access. According to a Microsoft study from 2013, the average adult, whether or not they had kids, thought an eight-year-old was old enough to use the internet independently.

For reference, here’s a run-down of the CDC’s list of developmental milestones for that age group. It says that a child approaching eight years of age is developing rapidly, emotionally and mentally, and is starting to “understand more about his or her place in the world.” It advises parents to talk with their children about respecting others, and supervise them during risky behavior. It doesn’t mention the internet.

A big bump in internet access for children is hardly surprising given how early we know children gain access to tablets and smartphones. A study published in Pediatrics last year found that children as young as three years old were able to navigate these devices unaided. Of the parents of children aged four years and younger, 97 percent of those surveyed said that their 6-month to 4-year-old child had used a mobile device, and the American Academy Of Pediatrics estimates that children today spend an average of seven hours of their day consuming entertainment media. That’s longer than the average amount of time they spend in school each day.

It’s still early to know the long-term effects of these changing cultural norms, but academics are (of course) speculating wildly. Another paper published in Pediatrics has raised concerns as to how these “digital pacifiers” could result in stunted social-emotional development and a Brookings study on e-toys found that traditional toy options may be more beneficial to educational growth than online counterparts.

While the Influence Central study focuses on children under the age of 18 without giving breakdowns on parents’ behavior dependent on their kid’s age, a recent survey from Pew Research shows that most parents are taking precautions when it comes to their 13- to 17-year-olds’ online behavior. Most have looked through their teenagers’ browser histories (as if those can’t be altered in advance).