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April 21, 2024

Where Every Family Matters

What’s the Right Age?

To get a smartphone or a debit card or to stay home alone? Since no two kids are the same, you may need a bit of help figuring this out.

Kids grow up too fast! That's what you start telling yourself as soon as your little one begins asking for something that you don't want to give … just yet. You want to protect your child, not rush the growing up so much. The trappings that define growing up — things like wearing makeup, having a smartphone, owning a debit card and the like — make for difficult parenting. You have to take in kid by kid in deciding when is the right age for giving permission. We can help you sort it out.


While feelings about this differ for everyone, one thing is true: age isn't as important as your child's maturity level. Not all kids own a sense of responsibility as early as others. Some kids can be easily led astray by the idea of something new and exciting at their fingertips. But getting your child his first phone is happening earlier than ever now with many kids having them in elementary school. The research firm Influence Central reports that most children today get their first smartphone around age 10, but some as young as 7 own them today, too. Famously, Bill Gates didn't give his kids their first cell phone until age 14. So there's a lot to consider for your family. One of the biggies: if you give your kid a cellphone, expect them not to be paying as much attention to you anymore.

Consider the following:
• Is my child good at taking care of things? 
• Do you need to be able to reach your child for safety reasons?
• Will your child adhere to guidelines you set in place at home?
• Will they use their phone responsibly no matter where they are?



According to nonprofit Afterschool Alliance research, more than 11 million kids — 20 percent — are left home alone after school in the U.S. every weekday. Of course those numbers are different now with so many adults working from home, but somebody has to do the grocery shopping.  Safe Kids Worldwide says generally children are cognitively ready to be home alone starting at age 12 or 13, although, again, age is not the best indicator of a child's maturity level. Parents have to make the call about their kids' readiness themselves. In Tennessee, there is no legal age for children to stay home alone, however, according to, "young children under age 10 should not be left without supervision at any time," and, "in most cases, older teenage children may be left alone for short periods of time."

Consider the following:

1. Safety: If your child needed to leave the house for an emergency, would she be safe? Is there a friend or neighbor nearby who can offer help in an emergency?

2. Responsibility: Can your child watch younger siblings, unpack groceries, do her own laundry? Is she able to do day-to-day activities without constant reminders? Will she walk outside and get locked out of the house? If kids aren’t responsible with you around, they probably won’t be responsible without you.

3. Cognitive readiness: Would your child keep a level head if things didn’t go as planned? For example, if she cut her finger slicing an apple, would she know how to handle it? Would she be able to, in a moment of distress, be able to access resources available to her?

4. Emotional readiness: Will she spend the entire 120 minutes you’re away watching agreed-upon television? You need to know your child well enough to know whether or not she will handle the situation maturely. 



Maybe it's not the best rule of thumb to hand your kid a $20 bill and send him off to the movies? Hopefully you started teaching your kids the basics of money management when they were little. You started with a piggy bank or got even more hands on by using Dave Ramsey's 15 Ways to Teach Kids About Money. But a debit card? Today the decision to give your child a piece of plastic for spending makes sense. Many banks will allow a kid to have a debit card as young as 11 years old, or somewhere between 11 and 17 … but that doesn't mean your kid is capable of holding onto one and being responsible for it. A kid with a debit card has control over his own cash, but he knows that his parents are monitoring his spending and can offer guidance as needed. So there are two main ways to own a debit card: through a specialist app like Rooster Money or through a child's bank account that comes with a debit card. Giving a child a debit card where you can see what he has in his account is very helpful for families on the go. But it's critical that you have the time to discuss and answer your child's questions.

Consider the following:

• Does your child know the basics about earning and spending?
• Do you have time to monitor your child's account daily?
• Would starting with a prepaid debit card such as Rooster Money or Greenlight be better? 
• Is my kid mature enough not to lose a debit card?
• Does your child understand the difference between debit and credit?


As your kids grow up, you will be doing more and more teaching about "adulting," and that's as it should be. Very few schools teach about the business of growing up, so if you've already taught about doing the laundry, boiling an egg, putting a bandaid on a boo-boo and more … yes, it's time to move onto the more grownup aspects of life!

About the Author

Susan Swindell Day

Susan Day is the editor in chief for this award-winning publication and all-things Nashville Parent digital creative. She's also an Equity actress, screenwriter and a mom of four amazing kids.