Trading Toys for Tech

Around the world, the age at which children are getting their first phone has been consistently falling. Whether it’s their parents’ old phone or the latest model, it’s becoming increasingly common to see even young children with a smartphone. And as people who grew up with mobile phones become parents themselves, it raises the question: will the age only get younger?

In Europe, it’s estimated that the average age that children get a smartphone is between six and eight years old. Children are often introduced to their parents’ phones even earlier in their lives. Some parents choose to give children their own phones because of the prevalence of entertainment platforms such as YouTube, as well as the rise in gamifying education. For example, the popular mobile quiz game Kahoot helps to engage children with learning.

So the two main reasons why parents are giving their children phones at younger ages are entertainment and practicality. Another significant factor is the assurance parents get from companies that parental controls are available to them if their child is under 13 years old.

The first phone children get isn’t necessarily a fully capable device. In Hungary, research shows that the average child may receive a phone at six years old, but the product won’t typically have a SIM. Most won’t get a phone with a SIM until they reach the age of eight, when their needs become more practical and having a connected device is deemed safer.

In many cases first phones aren’t brand-new, but are refurbished devices or second-hand from a family member. In Lithuania, the average child gets their first phone at the age of seven; in almost half of cases that phone will have belonged to another relative first. Other examples include Sweden, Belgium and Austria, where kids receive their first phone when they’re eight.

When it’s time for children to receive connected phones, the most common reason given is to improve communication, whether it’s between parent and child or a child and their friends. The period when children start a new school is a common denominator here, as it’s when most kids will get their first phone.

In the UK and US, it seems that almost all children have a SIM-enabled phone by about 10 or 11 years old, which is the age they transition from primary to secondary school — or from elementary to middle school in the US. This age varies by country. In New Zealand, where children start school at the age of nine, they often receive their first phone at eight.

Some of these differences are because of the specifics of how and when kids start making their own way to school. Parents are understandably keen to make sure that their children arrive at school safely, and a mobile phone is an effective way of doing this.

Brazil’s public transport, for instance, has a history of being unreliable. Consequently, children there often get phones at about eight years old — one year after they start primary education. In Denmark children typically start to walk and cycle to school on their own between the ages of seven and nine, and therefore on average get their first phone at 8.5 years old.

But mobile phones aren’t the only way to bring the benefits of digital technology to children. In China a child’s first device is usually a cellular-enabled smartwatch. This can be used for calls, entertainment, making payments and — crucially for parents — child tracking. According to our latest wearables research, over 20 million kids’ smartwatches are sold in China every year, but no other market has managed to replicate this success yet. For more information on our wearables analysis, please contact us.

It’s clear that children today are growing up surrounded by technology and are becoming more tech-savvy at a younger age. In markets that currently have more limited access to mobile phones because of cost, the age at which kids receive their first phone could carry on decreasing as devices become more available. But in many parts of the developed world, it’s likely that the trend in ages has stabilized at the fairly young age of six to eight years.