By Julie Mazziotta /
September 11, 2017
Mother and children traveling through Paris, France
Credit: Getty Images

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Teen psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg, PhD, advises on the best age for kids to get a smartphone, go overseas, have a sleepover, stay home alone and more.


"Hold off as long as possible," Greenberg advises, adding that kids likely need one by age 12. "In middle school, kids need a phone to reach out to their parents after activities."

But the later the better — smartphones can bring "challenges" like "social comparisons that lead to depression, anxiety and cyberbullying."


Here, Greenberg says that you can start early. "Kids are ready for it when they can walk and talk," she says. "I started taking my daughter to Disney when she was 3 — by then she could also relate to the characters and not be afraid."

But also think about how long a child — and you! — can last at the amusement park. "Limit how much time you spend there because it can become very overstimulating and exhausting not only for the kids, but the parents. You don't want the day to end in tears."


Like getting a smartphone, Greenberg recommends taking kids overseas around age 12.

"That's when they can enjoy the food, the culture and the sights — and see things they're already learning in school." Plus, by middle school, "they can handle a long flight."

But, Greenberg adds, "don't overstimulate. Make the days shorter. Don't try to cram in too much with your kids. Everybody has a saturation point.


"I say middle school at the earliest, but make sure you know the family, and that your kid will come home rested and that the family is going to check in on what's going on," Greenberg advises.

Kids in elementary school are too young, she says, adding that your child might have anxiety about sleeping in a strange house and following different family rules. She also warns of drinking sleepovers for high-school-aged kids, and issues with "mean girls."

If you're nervous about your child — either that they'll be too scared to stay the night or they'll get into trouble — Greenberg suggests setting a pickup time of 11 p.m.

"If that embarrasses them, tell them to blame the time limit on their mother," she says.


Greenberg suggests going by the age of the main character.

"Harry Potter was 11, so I would say 11 to 12, in early middle school," she says. "Kids can relate to the main character. There is something about these coming-of-age books that is really relatable and wonderful for kids."


Greenberg says this area gets "tricky" because each state has different legal rules about kids being alone.

"For just a few hours, I would say 13 or 14, and I would really make sure that your kid's comfortable with it," she says. "It's about knowing your kids. And also — a few hours only. Two hours is different than five hours. Start out with one hour and make your way to two hours."

For overnights alone, think about the stress a kid might be under. "When other kids hear that their house is open, there will be a lot of pressure on them to have a party," Greenberg says.

"If you have a child who is really independent and can resist the peer pressure, you can do it, but make sure there is some adult oversight, like a neighbor who looks in or a friend who calls your child," she adds. "It's part of parental responsibility. Peer pressure is intense."


"Hold off as long as you can and keep your child unplugged," Greenberg says. "Let them be carefree kids. Let them learn how to interact up front and in person. That's how we learn social skills, like looking someone in the eye and talking to their face."

Greenberg suggests abiding by the terms of use for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: age 13.