Ask Scary Mommy: My In-Laws Bought My 8-Year-Old A Phone Without Talking To Us

by Cassandra Stone
My In-Laws Bought My 8-Year-Old A Phone Without Talking To Us
Scary Mommy and Philippe Lissac/Getty

Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week: what do you do when your child’s grandparents give them the gift of a smartphone without clearing it with you and your spouse first? Who’s REALLY the bad guy here? Have your own questions? Email

Dear Scary Mommy,

For my daughter’s 8th birthday, my husband’s parents bought her an iPhone. They didn’t talk to us about it, they didn’t ask us our thoughts, if we were on board — nada. They just…gave it to her. And of course, like any child would be, she was elated. My husband and I are 100% against this. We know we could program it in a way that still allows us control so we can protect her, but beyond that, we’re still not on board. She has an iPad and honestly, that’s plenty. Her grandparents don’t understand the “big deal” about it, because their other granddaughter (my brother-in-law’s kid) had one “when she was six” and “they removed the internet from it” so its “fine.” So far, we’ve told our daughter that since we’re all home and she’s doing school virtually, she’s got enough “screen time” between that and her iPad and TV. She’s annoyed, but not apoplectic, so I think it’s fine. For now. How do we handle this? Send it back? Hang onto it until she’s older? My in-laws are totally the type to hold a grudge over this, too.

Absolutely do not let your 8-year-old child have an iPhone. Period. I don’t even know what “removing the internet” means, because that is literally not a thing with smartphones. If you’re doubting yourself, ask yourself this: “If I have to remove ‘x’ number of things from it to make it safe, and it really differs in no way from her iPad, why would she need this in the first place?”

Until a person/child can fully grasp the gravitas that comes with having an iPhone, they do not need an iPhone. Children who are in elementary school, for instance, do not understand that having a camera and taking pictures with that camera (of herself, her family, other kids) can lead to all sorts of trouble no matter how innocent the intent. All you have to do is Google how often kids — who often aren’t even teens yet — get in big trouble at school for this kind of thing, and you’ll want to keep a smartphone out of your kiddo’s hands for as long as possible.

Sure, there are phones for children that are programmed to call a few numbers — but like you said, what’s the point? There’s an ongoing pandemic and she’s already doing school virtually, so I’m assuming she doesn’t need to be picked up from lacrosse practice or from a sleepover. If you want to compromise and get her one of these so she can play around and call you from one room away before she grows tired of it after two days, though, you have my blessing.

As for the grandparents, I’d give it back. A simple “Thank you so much for the generous idea, but we think Jane is way too young to undertake the responsibility of owning something like this. If you’d like to get her something else for her birthday, here are a few gift ideas she’d love.” Let them hang onto it or return it at their will from there. You and your husband are her parents, you make the decisions. I give you full permission to not feel any doubt or guilt over this — your child has everything she needs, she’ll eventually have an iPhone of her own, and your in-laws can bitch about it all the way to the Target toy section while they get her something more appropriate.

Have your own questions? Email