Ten-year-olds today live in a significantly different world than ten-year-olds even a few years ago.

Today, when you get a phone you don’t just get something to dial if you’re going to be late for dinner or you’re in danger. You get everything with it—Facebook, movies, a full web browser, and any app you can think of. And you have it with you anytime, anywhere. Wifi is everywhere, and whether it’s an iPod touch, a phone, a tablet, a laptop or any kind of mobile device, our kids have access to anything, anytime.

It can be difficult for parents to address when their kids should get their first phone (or whatever device it is that will allow them access to the online world with the swipe of a finger).

Even though my sons are grown, I never had to answer that question quite the same way many of you do. But I’ve thought about it a lot.

Here’s how I think I might answer the question, “Dad, when can I get my own phone?”

What I think I’d say today is this: “When you’re ready.”

Here’s why. I’m not sure there’s a magic line that kids cross when they reach a certain birthday or grade in school that really qualifies them to be ready to handle everything that comes at them when a browser or app opens up.

The When You’re Ready Approach

Maybe “when you’re ready” isn’t a bad idea in other areas too. For example, is every 16-year-old “ready” to drive a car? Don’t tell your kids this, but I think there are probably some 14-year-olds who are ready and responsible enough to drive. And there are some 44-year-olds we should bench. Whatever the legal drinking age is in your area, I know some 16-year-olds who would never touch the stuff and some grandparents who should be cut off.

So how do you know when they’re ready? Well, that’s up to you as a parent. I think to a large extent it’s tied to the development of their character, something we talked about in this post.

There are a few final things that intrigue me about the “when you’re ready” angle on technology:

It responds to the development of each child individually.

Because it’s not a question of math or birthdays, it allows you to gauge your response individually to each child. Because some kids are mature for their age and well, others aren’t, it gives you options as a parent.

It fosters a dialogue.

“When you’re ready” prompts the question, “Well, when will I be ready?” which can be a gateway into all kinds of great conversations about character, responsibility and honest dialogue about what they will learn and discover.

It creates an incentive.

Suddenly a phone isn’t an entitlement, it’s something that’s tied to a child’s progress and their demonstration that they are ready to handle the responsibility that comes with it.

This is all just a suggestion of course, but then with technology moving as quickly as it is, we’re all kind of in a laboratory anyway, aren’t we?

So, in that spirit, what do you think about the “when you’re ready” approach? What other things are working (or not working) in your home when it comes to your kids and access to technology?