Cell Phones: When Should Your Child Get One?

Now that my oldest child is eleven, a “tween”, the subject of getting a cell phone is slowly creeping into conversations in our home. She insists that she needs a cell phone because she will be walking to junior high school next year. When does a child NEED a cell phone? Well, in my day… cell phones didn’t exist.girl with cell phone

Question: When does your child need a cell phone?

Answer: Your child needs a cell phone when you need your child to have a cell phone. Sorry, parents, teens, and tweens, there really isn’t a hard and fast rule for an age when a child should get a cell phone.

When You Need Your Child to Have a Cell Phone:

  1. Emergencies– Most parents say they allowed their child to have a cell phone so the child can contact the parents or other adults in case of an emergency, or vice versa.
  2. Teaching Responsibility– Allowing your child to get a cell phone teaches him to be responsible for his own belongings and to obey the limits you set (talk time, text usage, etc). If your child wants a cell phone before you are completely convinced, have him pay for the phone and service plan by earning the money. If he is too young to get a job, he can earn it through extra chores around the house, mowing neighbors’ lawns, shoveling driveways, baby-sitting, etc. This idea also works when your child wants the newest technology instead of your old phone.
  3. Tracking Your Child’s Whereabouts– I apologize to all my children’s friends (and my teen and tween clients) for the following: If you agree to get your child a cell phone, insist that your child check in with you while she is away from home. The rule should be: “If Mom or Dad calls, texts, or messages you, you must respond immediately, or your cell phone privileges may be revoked.” As a parent, remember to be respectful of your child’s activities and refrain from contacting your child when he cannot answer the phone. Obviously, if your child’s plans change, he can show he is being responsible by checking in and making sure the change of plans is okay with Mom or Dad.  Many phones also offer GPS tracking which lets you know where your child (or specifically, where your child’s phone) is at all times. This is important for keeping your child safe and also for knowing where your child is if you suspect your child is not being honest about where she spends her time.
  4. Constant Contact– To many teens, this falls under the “be careful what you wish for” category. If your child has a cell phone, you can contact her wherever she is. If you are running late and she is waiting to be picked up from a class or practice, you can let her know.
  5. Picking Up From Activities– Yes, this benefit goes for both parents and kids. If your child ends an activity earlier or later than expected, or if your child is going to be waiting at a different location than what you originally planned, your child can call, text, or message you about where to go.
  6. Internet Use– A cell phone with internet capability is much more cost-effective than buying another computer for the home. As kids get older, more and more of their homework relies on research done on the computer. So, if your child has a cell phone where he can look up information, it will free up your home computer for other uses. And, it can be used as a back-up computer if you have common power outages in your area.
  7. Entertainment– Of course, time limits on the cell phone should be set, but having a cell phone means that your child can entertain himself when you have to drag him on an errand with you. He can talk or text his friends, play games, and you have the benefit of avoiding the “I’m bored” discussion with your teen/tween.
  8. Keeping Up with the Joneses– Of course, this is not high on the parental list, but as parents, we all wanted something that our friends had, so we could “fit in”. Having a cell phone is a way for your child to fit in with and communicate with his friends who have them.
  9. Peace of Mind– If your child is home alone or if she has to walk to or from school, having a cell phone can give you and her peace of mind knowing you both are only a phone call, text, or message away.

Other Options Vs. Getting Your Child A Cell Phone:

As I write this, I am still on the fence about whether my daughter needs a cell phone at her age. If you are on the fence like I am, consider:

  1. A family cell phone– This works well when the oldest is not a teenager yet. If one child is going to be away from home and you want to have the benefits of 1-9 mentioned above, but don’t want to break the bank by getting several cell phones, consider having a shared cell phone. Many cell phone companies will offer an “add a phone” option with unlimited text and several hundred minutes of talk time for a nominal monthly fee.
  2. An iPod touch or other MP-3 player– Many kids already own these devices. Let’s face it, kids are not generally using cell phones to talk anyway. With these, your child can email you and you can receive messages immediately on your smart phone. You can also send your child emails or messages on their device. Some programs also offer free texting.

You Are An Expert Too

How did your family address the cell phone dilemma? Please comment below regarding the solutions you have found and how they worked or did not work with your family.

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7 replies
  1. Rhonda Moskowitz
    Rhonda Moskowitz says:

    Terrific topic. In my work as a PCI Certified Parent Coach® I have found that parents often don’t take the time to think through the rules they expect their tween to abide by. In particular it is important for the cell phone to have a ‘resting place’ at night that is NOT in the child’s bedroom. You’d be amazed at the number of children texting when they should be sleeping! Additionally, texting can lead to bullying in some cases. One feature that many cell plans have is the ability for the primary user (parent) to restrict the child’s phone to only those parent approved contact numbers.
    Rhonda Moskowitz, M.A., http://www.practicalsolutionsparentcoaching.com

    Reply
    • Dori Mages, MSW, LCSW
      Dori Mages, MSW, LCSW says:

      Thank you for your comment, Rhonda. I advise parents of the “cell phone turn off time” rule. It is definitely an important factor. Perhaps cell phone usage rules will be a topic of an upcoming blog!

      Reply
  2. Concerned
    Concerned says:

    I have a concern with allowing your child to surf the internet with little to no supervision, if you have your child use their cell phone to access information. This allows a child to bully others, or be bullied by classmates without a parent knowing about it. Tread cautious with allowing your child to surf the in internet without any supervision.

    Reply
    • Dori Mages, MSW, LCSW
      Dori Mages, MSW, LCSW says:

      Dear Concerned:
      I absolutely agree that children should not surf the internet with little or no supervision. As children and teens get older, however, it gets more difficult to supervise their every move. And, it’s normal for them to branch out and spend more time with their friends. It is our role as parents to guide the kids/teens as to appropriate internet safety and behavior when they are online. Unfortunately, we cannot control how much supervision, and more importantly, guidance, other parents give their children or what others write online. However, we can teach our children/teens how to handle tough situations and how/when to respond to online comments. We should also teach our children/teens, “If you shouldn’t say it to my face, you shouldn’t say it in cyberspace.” I’m a firm believer in teaching children to be responsible rather than taking on that responsibility for them. I invite you to take a look at NSPT’s other blogs about internet safety, technology use, and keeping your child safe from cyber- bullying. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      Reply
  3. Dori Mages, MSW, LCSW
    Dori Mages, MSW, LCSW says:

    Dear Concerned:

    I absolutely agree that children shouls not surf the internet with little or no supervision. However, it is our role as parents to guide the kids/teens as to appropriate internet safety and behavior when they are online. Unfortunately, we cannot control what others write online, but we can teach our children/teens how to handle tough situations. We should also teach our children/teens, “If you shouldn’t say it to my face, you shouldn’t say it in cyberspace.” Please see our other blogs about internet safety, technology use, and keeping your child safe from cyber bullying. Thanks for your comment!

    Reply
  4. BeckiD
    BeckiD says:

    I have a question in regard to this topic, however; my step-daughter is 15 and has A.D.D. and is extremely behind academically. She has a ‘smart phone’ and is obsessed with it, she has no interest in anything else. Is this hindering her from moving forward academically and otherwise? SHe is also anti-social so I fear she uses this to hide behind instead of actually engaging in a back and forth dialogue. Any insight would be very helpful. Thank you.

    Reply

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