A guide to giving your child their first phone

Children are getting smartphones younger than ever. Make sure you’re all prepared.

(Rose Wong for The Washington Post)

The biggest milestone for teenagers used to be getting their driver’s license, opening them up to a new world of freedom and danger. For many, it’s now getting their first smartphone.

Unlike with a car — which comes with driving lessons, a learner’s permit and a big test to ensure road readiness — many parents buy the phone first, then try to teach their kids how to use it. It’s a risky approach, experts say. As easy as it is to give your child more freedom, it can be a brutal battle to claw it back when they’re misusing it or showing signs of overuse.

The Help Desk has made this guide for parents or guardians who want to be ready for that big moment, not stumble into it. We will cover everything from the right age to buy a smartphone, to having difficult conversations about bullying, sexting and misinformation.

At the center of all our advice is the need to have open and continuing conversations with kids. Their needs, interests and issues will evolve as they age, and the adults in their life need to keep up. Be open to reassessing your rules and allowing more flexibility as they grow. Your goal shouldn’t be to monitor everything they search online and every private conversation they have with friends. You want to give your children the skills they need to handle problems on their own, and build enough trust so they’ll know they can come to you with anything bigger.

Help Desk: Making tech work for you

Help Desk is a destination built for readers looking to better understand and take control of the technology used in everyday life.

Take control: Sign up for The Tech Friend newsletter to get straight talk and advice on how to make your tech a force for good.

Tech tips for make your life easier: 10 tips and tricks to customize iOS 16 | 5 tips to make your gadget batteries last longer | How to get back control of a hacked social media account | How to avoid falling for and spreading misinformation online

Data and Privacy: A guide to every privacy setting you should change now. We have gone through the settings for the most popular (and problematic) services to give you recommendations. Google | Amazon | Facebook | Venmo | Apple | Android

Ask a question: Send the Help Desk your personal technology questions.