Our kids are never going to know a time when the Internet did not exist, and that’s pretty cool, but it also brings with it a lot of fraught parenting decisions that our parents never even had to consider. Like, when should a kid be allowed to get their own smartphone? There’s not a lot of parental precedent to help us figure out the answer to that question, but Bill and Melinda Gates are a pretty good example to look at. They’re extremely smart, devoted parents who are also both tech-savvy geniuses with a front-row seat to the way technology is shaping our world and defining the world our kids will grow up to run. They aren’t technology-fearing Luddites who think we’re all going to go back to using beepers, but they do believe in a safe minimum age for teens to get smartphones, and for their kids, that age is 14.

Bill and Melinda Gates are not the only tech billionaire parents who have put limits on their kids’ technology use. Steve Jobs once said his kids weren’t allowed to have iPads. The kids, of course, were very unhappy about their limits and complained that all their friends had smartphones and they didn’t. But the Gates parents were firm in their “no smartphones before 14” rule. They also maintain a “no smartphones at the dinner table” rule, which is a great idea.

“We don’t have cell phones at the table when we are having a meal, we didn’t give our kids cell phones until they were 14, and they complained other kids got them earlier,” Gates said.

Other kids did probably get them earlier. The world is full of young teenagers and even younger kids with their own cell phones. Being the last kid to get a smart phone will probably annoy them greatly, but it might be a good idea to hold off on the smartphone until the kid is mature enough to handle it.

A lot of parents worry about smart phone use impairing their kids’ attention spans, or discouraging them from reading or engaging with other people, and also opening them up to bullying and predators. But they also worry that withholding technology will hold them back in the future. Tech skills are important life skills these days, and we don’t want our kids to be behind when it comes to computer skills. But most of our kids are not going to have a problem with that, and Bill and Melinda Gates aren’t worried about their cell phone limit hurting their kids’ performance in STEM.

“You’re always looking at how it can be used in a great way – homework and staying in touch with friends – and also where it has gotten to excess,” Gates said.

When do you think is a good age for a kid to get their first smartphone? Is it OK to give your old phone to the 3-year-old when you get an upgrade? Let us know in the comments.

(Image: iStockPhoto / Wachiwit)