The right age for kids to fly or have a drone of their own depends on the child, on the parents’ comfort level and on the type of drone in question. My kids know all about drones, but I haven’t let them fly one yet, aside from letting my oldest (age 6) “help” to hold the controller. I think she’s not far off though, from being old enough to give it a go on her own. Maybe in a year or two I’ll think about getting her a toy drone of her own to learn on.
It is ultimately up to a parent’s discretion, but in general terms we can say that kids over the age of 4 can fly a drone with supervision. The right age for a child to fly a drone on their own is about the age of 8 for toy drones, and over the age of 13 for larger drones that need to be registered with the FAA.
The reason I would break the recommended age into levels is that the type of drone suitable for kids could be put in two categories. These types of drones are not created equal, either in terms of quality, cost, function, or ease of use. The cheaper toy drones are more advisable for younger children, while older children will have the skill and maturity to be able to handle a bigger, more expensive (and more functional) drone. Oh, and the whole FAA registration question. More on that in a bit.
The Best Age to Learn How to Fly a Drone
Over age 4
By the age of 4, kids could have the manual dexterity to begin learning to use a drone controller. The right drone for this age category is definitely a toy drone, and should always be used with close adult supervision. While kids of 4 and up could get pretty good at flying a drone, I would still be pretty hesitant to let them fly an expensive one, given the general unpredictability of skill at this level.
Over age 8
Most toy drone manufacturers have a label, at the minimum, of recommended for ages 8+ (depending, some models are recommended for ages 14+). By the age of 8 (although you know your kid the best), most kids have the hand-eye coordination and dexterity to have a reasonable degree of skill with the controller, and the attention span to stick with the hobby long enough to actually learn how to do it.
Toy drones are a good choice for kids in the 8-12 age range because they are low-cost (are they going to be tired of this toy by next week?), and reasonably safe even for flying indoors. The other reason that a toy drone is better for younger aspiring drone pilots is that they don’t have to be registered with the FAA (provided the drone is under 0.55lbs).
Over age 13
For your teenager that wants to get into drones, a toy drone might also be the right place to start, but then again, if they are serious about learning drone photography skills, you might want to start them out with a drone with a decent camera, GPS, and some intelligent flight modes, which is harder to find in the toy drone category. Or if the interest lies more in the direction of FPV drone racing, you could look into getting a kit build as a way to get started.
If the drone you choose weighs over 0.55lbs (250g), it will have to be registered with the FAA. A $5 registration fee gets you a three year registration, and your teenager can do it on their own, as you must be 13 or over to complete the registration process. What better way to get your kid thinking about responsible recreation and drone ownership?
How hard is it for kids to learn to fly a drone?
Kids are natural learners, and skills that they are interested in seem to come easy. In fact, your child might find learning to fly a drone easier than you would. The actual flight skills of mastering the controller do take a bit of practice, but with a little bit of persistence, they’ll soon be flying circles around you.
There’s a lot to learn: how to get the drone ready for flight, how to use the controller sticks to direct the drone’s flight, how to get good pictures, how to store and maintain the drone, and so on. Depending on the type of drone you opt for, this list could be longer or shorter.
With toy drones, for instance, there’s not much prep work to get ready to fly. It’s pretty much just charging up the drone battery and controller battery, and heading out the door. The biggest thing to learn will be how to use the controller sticks. With a toy drone, the flight control is the whole game.
The really small toy drones with no hovering assistance or flight modes can be a bit of a challenge to learn to control, probably harder to fly than a more advanced drone. It could be a little bit discouraging for your youngster to not immediately be able to get the drone to fly exactly where and how they want it to, but it’s an opportunity to encourage some tenacity at learning a new skill. It’s all about building the right expectation – if you frame it as a new skill or challenge to master, like snowboarding or riding a bike, they will approach it with a more realistic idea of the effort that will be required to get to the “fun and easy” level of skill.
For a teenager getting started with a drone, perhaps a more advanced drone, there will be more to learn. This includes registering the drone, updating firmware for the drone and the controller, how to use the various flight features that the drone may have, how to take pictures, how to properly charge and store batteries, etc. Learning the flight control with a more advanced drone will probably actually be easier with a GPS drone, as they have more steady hovering ability and it’s easier to keep them on a smooth flight path. There’s still a learning curve for all the skills involved, and again, it’s a great opportunity for your teen to have a hands on experience of developing persistence and responsibility.
Is it safe for kids to fly a drone?
Like any responsible parent, you may have questions about the safety of drones in the hands of a child or teenager (after all, they still have an undeveloped prefrontal cortex, and are not known for making wise or well-reasoned decisions). Before buying them a drone, you should be aware of any potential risks involved. While a little bit of risk is inherent in almost any activity, when done responsibly, you can let your kids fly drones with confidence that they (and others) will not be seriously harmed.
There is a slight degree of risk from propeller blades, although this is minimal with small toy drones, or even with the slightly larger, beginner level camera drones. Spinning blades could cause minor cuts to fingers, or loose hair could get caught up in them. Most toy drones though, and many larger ones as well, come with propeller guards to minimize the chances of fingers or hair getting near the spinning propellers.
If flown indoors (only toy drones should be flown indoors!), there is always the possibility that the drone could knock into things like lamps, picture frames, vases, etc. Depending on the size of your toy drone, it’s advisable to keep the indoor flying to rooms that don’t have fragile or valuable items in it (so, not the TV room, or near the glass-fronted china cupboard).
For outdoor flying with the slightly larger beginner drones, there is less risk of damage to your valuables, but there is still potential for your kid to fly the drone into a window, the roof, the pool. While these types of mishaps can be annoying, they don’t typically pose a high level of risk. Even if the drone falls out of the sky on his or her head (which doesn’t really ever happen), weighing somewhere between a pound and half a pound, it’s not going to do more than cause a minor bump.
As with any hobby that our kids take up, wise parents should take precautions and teach children to minimize the risk of harm. If they’re riding bikes, we teach them to always wear a helmet. If they’re skateboarding, they should wear knee pads and helmets. The precautions to keep in mind with flying drones include choosing the right space to fly, and following any guidelines that you have put in place for flight. These will of course vary depending on the age and maturity level of your child, and the type of drone they have.
Here are a few recommended flight guidelines you could give your kids:
- Always ask permission before flying your drone.
- Do not let your friends fly your drone unless a parent has first given them instructions/help.
- Do not fly over the neighbor’s yard unless they have given you permission each time you fly.
- Make sure you go through your preflight checklist before you fly. (Here’s a general preflight checklist. Give a modified version to your children.)
- Indoor flight with a toy drone: only fly in the play room, your bedroom or the garage.
- If the drone gets stuck in a tree, on the roof, in the pool, etc. do not try to get it yourself. Ask for help.
Is it legal for kids to fly a drone?
Toy drones have no legal minimum age, although most manufacturers will usually recommend the best age of 8+ or 14+, depending on the drone. That means a toy drone can legally be flown by a child of any age.
Drones that weigh over 0.55lbs must be registered with the FAA, but this registration is for the drone itself and can be completed by a parent on behalf of their child. An individual must be at least 13 years of age to register their own drone. So even a drone requiring registration can still legally be flown by a child under the age of 13, if it is registered by a parent.
If you as a parent register a drone on behalf of your child, whether they are under or over the age of 13, you are taking on the responsibility to oversee and teach them to obey the rules of safe drone flight as required by the FAA. These apply to any recreational drone operator, whether or not they need to register their drone based on its weight.
In a nutshell, here are the FAA rules for safe drone operations:
- You must register your drone if it weighs over 0.55 lbs (250g). Your registration label number must be visible on the outside of your drone.
- Fly your drone at or below 400 feet above ground level.
- Don’t fly your drone in controlled airspace (such as near airports).
- Keep out of the way of any manned aircraft.
- Keep your drone in visual line of sight.
- Don’t fly at night, unless your drone has appropriate lighting.
- Don’t fly over a person or moving vehicle.
- Stay out of the way of emergency response activities.
- Never fly while under the influence.
- Don’t be reckless. A catch-all category for just generally being smart.
- One more rule that is coming into effect in the near future: Soon all drone operators (including recreational ones) will need to pass a knowledge and safety test before being permitted to fly a drone.
All drone operators must follow these rules of safe flight, regardless of their age, type of drone they are flying or any other factors. If your child is flying the drone, you as the parent are responsible for making sure they are obeying the rules of safe flight.
Here’s why drones are great for kids
If you’re not convinced yet that getting a drone for your kid is a good idea, here are some reasons to tip the scale a bit.
Drones are fun
Flying a drone is a little bit like playing a video game, except that the controller produces real world actions. How fun is it for your kid to see that little bumbling toy responding to their hands, flying this way and that on command? Lots of the toy drone options out there can do tricks like flips and spins and such, which kids (and parents) think is pretty cool.
Drones are a fun way to get your kids off the couch, engaged, and up and moving, whether it’s just to fly the drone around the room, or out in the yard. If you get a toy drone for each of your kids, it can also be a fun way for them to engage with each other with games (pick up and drop off an object), completing obstacle courses, or racing.
Drones are educational
At the most basic level, learning how to use a drone controller is good for developing hand coordination. At the next level up, kids can learn about the settings of a drone, how to keep the firmware updated, how to select settings – all these types of processes that are a reality of our technology saturated society. Kids can begin learning how to do these things with a device of their own that (can, but) doesn’t need to link to social media.
Going beyond the basic skills needed for flying a drone, you can get build-your-own-drone kits to teach kids engineering and tinkering skills. Or you can get a drone such as the Ryze Tello that allows open source coding to get kids interested in learning some beginning coding skills.
Drones help teach responsibility
Even with a cheap toy drone, you can begin to teach your young child about taking care of their belongings. For a drone this would include making sure the batteries are charged before flying, putting the drone away when not in use so it doesn’t get broken, and making good choices about where and when to fly the drone.
For your older child with a more advanced drone, the need to act responsibly with their possession gets even more real with the need to register the drone with the FAA, and abide by all of the obligatory rules for safe flight. They can walk through the process of registration online and begin to learn about their duty as a citizen to abide by the laws that help keep everyone safe.
Drones teach transferable skills
Not to get mercenary, but the skills that your kid learns at the controls of a drone have potential to become more than a hobby. There are lots of ways that the ability to fly a drone can become a job, whether it’s photography, doing inspections, surveying and more. If your child gets really interested in drones, don’t think of it as a time suck and a waste of money, think of it as an investment in a possible future career as a drone pilot.
What to look for in drones for kids
There are lots of drones out there that could potentially be suitable for kids, and many that are directly marketed as being drones for kids. Sorting through the plethora of drones that fall into the toy drone category can be overwhelming to say the least, but here are some things to look for as you’re deciding on which drone is right for your kid.
- Price. For a child who may or may not stick with drones as a hobby, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to break the bank on their first drone. Look for something that fits your budget. There are lots of great options under or around the $100 mark. Check out our recommended drones by budget.
- Safety. Especially if you’re getting a drone for a younger child (under 13), look for one that has either built in or removable propeller guards.
- Durability. Look for a drone that will survive the first crash. And the second, and the third…
- Extra batteries. A lot of the toy drones have very short flight times, so it’s nice if you can get one that comes with an extra battery or two. Or plan to buy extra batteries if they’re available for purchase.
- Ease of use. Try to find a drone with some features that will make it a little easier for beginners, such as headless mode and altitude hold.
- Other features: Depending on the age and interest of your child, you might look for a drone with a camera, with GPS, or a controller with a connected smartphone.
The bottom line: learning how to fly a drone is a fun and interesting activity for kids, and who knows, it could be the start of a lifelong passion. Even if it’s not, buying a drone for your kid will be money well spent, with hours of enjoyment for them, you, and the whole family.