When kids get their first cell phones around the world

Sara Zaske's daughter, Sophia, rarely showed much interest in having her own cell phone -- that is, until they moved ...

Posted: Dec 11, 2017 10:49 AM
Updated: Dec 11, 2017 10:49 AM

Sara Zaske's daughter, Sophia, rarely showed much interest in having her own cell phone -- that is, until they moved back to the United States from Germany.

About six years ago, when Sophia was just a toddler, Zaske and her husband moved the family from Oregon to Berlin.

About 45% of US children ages 10 to 12 have a smartphone with a service plan

Outside the US and Europe, children tend to get their first mobile phones when they are older

By the time Sophia was in third grade in Berlin, almost no one in her class owned a cell phone, let alone a smartphone, Zaske said, and Sophia hardly noticed.

"At that time, she only knew a few kids who had a phone, and most of those phones were flip phones" and not connected to the internet, Zaske said.

About 51% of German children ages 6 to 13 report having their own mobile phone, according to a report released last year by the Media Education Research Association Southwest's long-term KIM study in Germany.

But when Zaske and her family moved to California's San Francisco Bay Area, Sophia entered fourth grade and became the only student in her class without a smartphone, Zaske said, and the girl noticed.

"So she tells me, 'I think I might need a phone, Mom.' And I say, 'What for? You didn't need it before; why do you need it now?' " said Zaske, author of the upcoming book "Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children," to publish in January.

"We intend to give Sophia a flip phone next year so that she can call us and make plans with friends after school more easily, but we will hold off on the smartphone until high school," she said.

As in most developed countries, Zaske said, many German children had access to smartphones or computers in their homes, but owning their own mobile device was not as common as it appears to be among children and teens in the United States.

Here is a sampling of at what age children around the world are given their own cell phones.

'Children across countries were sensitive to costs'

Across Europe, about 46% of children 9 to 16 own a smartphone, according to a study published in the journal New Media & Society in 2015.

The study surveyed about 3,500 children in Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Romania and the United Kingdom between 2013 and 2014.

"Back in 2014, around 80% of children owned either a mobile phone or a smartphone; 46% owned a smartphone and 33% a mobile phone," said Giovanna Mascheroni, a senior lecturer at the Universit- Cattolica of Milan in Italy and lead author of the study.

Yet, she added, there were differences across countries in how much children were allowed to use their smartphones in school and other places.

"Children in Italy and the UK were more likely to be restricted at school. They had no access to Wi-Fi and had to turn off their smartphones, whereas children in Denmark reported using the smartphone for class activities more frequently," Mascheroni said.

"Children in Portugal were more affected by the economic crisis, so they reported not having an internet plan any longer because it was too expensive," she said. "In general, though, children across countries were sensitive to costs. They used Wi-Fi networks when possible and switched 3G or 4G off to save money and power."

In the United States, cell phone ownership seems to begin at a younger age.

Kids having their own service plans

In a Nielsen report released in February, about 45% of US children 10 to 12 had their own smartphone with a service plan, as opposed to just using Wi-Fi.

When did kids get a service plan? About 22% did so around age 10, 15% at ages 9 or 11, and 16% around age 8, according to the report.

A separate report released last month by the nonprofit organization Common Sense Media found that 42% of US children 8 and younger now have their own tablet devices.

Those numbers came as no shock to Douglas Gentile, a psychology professor at Iowa State University who was not involved in the new report but has studied the effects of media use on children.

"It's not surprising, because it's what we look around ourselves and can see. I can see it at the airport, for example. I can see it at restaurants, and I can even see it in my own home where my younger daughter watches almost no television, but she'll watch lots of TV shows on her phone," Gentile told CNN in October.

Outside the US and Europe, children tend to own their first mobile phones when they are older.

In South Korea, about 72% of children owned a smartphone by ages 11 to 12, and they would spend up to 5.4 hours a day on them, according to a study published last year in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. In comparison, adults reported spending about 3.8 hours on their phones, according to the study.

"It seems that Korean children start to have their own mobile phone around second to third grade, and by the time they become fourth-graders, most of them have mobile phones," said Yoori Hwang, a researcher at Myongji University in Seoul and lead author of the study.

Among Taiwanese children, the numbers of those who used cell phones rose steadily from 45% of 11-year-olds to about 71% of 15-year-olds, according to a study published in the Journal of the Formosan Medical Association in 2015.

A wide disparity across cultures

In Turkey, there was no consensus among parents regarding the best time for their kids to have mobile phones, according to a study published last year in the Interactive Journal of Medical Research. The study involved 333 participants.

"We asked the parents the optimal time to buy a mobile phone for their children; approximately 19.5% of the parents responded as 6 to 11 years; 59.8% of the parents responded as 12 to 17 years," said Dr. Meltem Dinleyici, assistant professor in pediatrics at the Eskisehir Osmangazi University Faculty of Medicine and lead author of the study.

"According to the parent's responses, 3.3% indicated that there was no need for the presence of a mobile phone for children until the age of 18," Dinleyici said.

About four out of five, or 81%, of secondary school students in South Africa own or have access to a mobile phone, and about 31% have their own social network page, according to a report published by UNICEF in 2013.

Among children 9 to 18 in Ghana, 18.8% of boys and 12.9% of girls own a mobile phone, according to a study published in the Journal of International Development in 2015. It also showed that among children in Malawi, 10.4% of boys and 6.2% of girls own a mobile phone.

Overall, according to the study, ownership of mobile phones climbed between 2007 and 2014 from about 0.6% to 8.4% in Malawi, 2.4% to 16.2% in Ghana and 21% to 50.8% in South Africa.

In a study of fourth-year primary school children in Australia, nearly 31% owned or used a mobile phone at the start of the study. A year later, 43% did, according to their parents.

For the study, published in the journal Environmental Health in June, data were collected on 412 children from 36 schools in Melbourne and Wollongong between 2010 and 2013.

"Parents were asked at what age their child first owned or used a mobile phone. The median age was 8 years," said Mary Redmayne, an adjunct research fellow at Monash University in Australia and a co-author of the study.

"It seems that many parents of primary school children want to be able to contact their child, but we have not researched this," she said. "It would be interesting to know other reasons."

Best age for a kid's first phone? No one knows

All in all, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that there is no "right" age to expose your child to screens or hand them their own cell phone.

Last year, however, the academy released new recommendations for children's media use. For instance, it recommended that children younger than 18 to 24 months avoid using digital media regularly, except when video-chatting.

The academy also advised that for children 2 to 5, screen time should be limited to one hour per day.

No matter the age, the academy recommended to avoid using media as the only way to calm your child, monitor your child's media content and what apps are used or downloaded, avoid screens one hour before bedtime, and keep meal times screen-free.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 135142

Reported Deaths: 1832
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah28678460
Washington18867175
Marion16394242
Clackamas11789138
Lane8467110
Jackson700485
Umatilla685671
Deschutes507339
Yamhill322846
Malheur316453
Linn314949
Polk249240
Klamath246944
Josephine178535
Benton174314
Jefferson171225
Douglas170943
Union112516
Wasco109123
Columbia105418
Lincoln100417
Hood River96121
Coos95215
Morrow94510
Clatsop6925
Crook62911
Baker5765
Tillamook3692
Curry3235
Lake2365
Grant2131
Harney1784
Wallowa973
Gilliam511
Sherman470
Wheeler201
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3074812

Reported Deaths: 35060
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles103873814416
San Bernardino2569141560
Riverside2510002676
San Diego2185552174
Orange2165092508
Santa Clara949051129
Kern87240572
Fresno83200968
Sacramento811831128
Alameda68649788
Ventura62774462
San Joaquin58843788
Contra Costa53349460
Stanislaus43121766
Tulare42186515
Monterey36464255
San Mateo32887309
San Francisco29502266
Solano25983107
Santa Barbara25405243
Imperial25333474
Merced24570316
Sonoma24184242
Kings19588148
Placer17490184
San Luis Obispo16056140
Madera13528151
Santa Cruz12461113
Marin11732159
Yolo10789138
Shasta9750123
Butte9528128
El Dorado788649
Sutter782879
Napa767244
Lassen519916
San Benito500346
Yuba499627
Tehama433244
Tuolumne340340
Nevada323474
Mendocino319232
Amador302431
Lake262531
Humboldt242725
Glenn194820
Colusa17969
Calaveras162123
Siskiyou145713
Mono11244
Inyo98329
Del Norte8672
Plumas5895
Modoc3853
Mariposa3464
Trinity3044
Sierra820
Alpine730
Unassigned00
Medford
Mostly Cloudy
47° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 47°
Brookings
Partly Cloudy
52° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 52°
Medford
Partly Cloudy
47° wxIcon
Hi: 40° Lo: 25°
Feels Like: 47°
Medford
Cloudy
47° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 47°
Klamath Falls
Partly Cloudy
43° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 43°
One final mostly dry and mild day
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events