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When to Give Your Child a Cell Phone: Advice for Parents

Updated on August 21, 2011

“How old should my child be when he gets his own cell phone?” This is one question that is now asked by many parents that had never been asked before throughout history.

Cell phones are an incredible phenomenon. They are so accessible and they have so many features and functions. Nearly every adult has one and nearly every kid wants one. According to Envirosmart, an estimated 250-300 million cell phones are in use in the U.S.* I imagine that several of those are being used by kids under the age of 18.

So what’s the answer? When are kids old enough to have their own cell phone? When should moms and dad allow their children to have access to the world at their fingertips? When should children be able to text and phone their friends at any time of the day or night? When are they responsible enough?

Unfortunately, there is no clear cut answer. Unlike driving a car, voting, or drinking there is no legal age restriction or requirement. Since it’s completely up to parents, and the children who do the begging and pleading, everyone’s answer could be, and is, drastically different. Every parents reasoning behind that answer will be just as varied.

Before my own kids had cell phones, I know that was a little too quick to judge other parents whose young children sported phones. I thought it was simply ridiculous that an elementary aged child would be allowed to have their own phone. I jumped to the conclusion that the child was spoiled, that the parent was weak, and that since I didn’t have a cell phone myself until I was nearly 30 then kids shouldn’t either. But like I said, I was too quick to judge.

Like everything else, my own parenting has evolved with the times. My kids are 16, 14, and 10 and they each have their own cell phone. They are not spoiled. I am not weak. I just came to the realization, one child at a time, that it was actually more convenient for ME for them to have their own cell phone.

It started when my husband’s work issued him a cell phone. Since we were in a contract, we then had two phones, but only needed one. My oldest son, a sixth grader at the time, was the lucky recipient of the extra phone. This was to my advantage anyway, and he and his younger sister had to walk nearly a mile home after school each day. Now he could call me on their way home and I would know that they were safe. Once he was given the phone, I began to realize all the benefits.

He could go out and play with the neighbor kids and I could call him when dinner was ready. He could go hang out at a friend’s house and I could get in touch with him any time I wanted. It was incredible!

I’ve noticed that parents seem to hesitate when giving their first child a cell phone. Once their first child has a phone and they realize how convenient it is, then the next child is more likely to receive one. For example, I NEVER would have given my oldest child a phone at 10-years-old. But now that I’ve realized the convenience with my older children… it only seems natural for her to have one as well.

Cell phone manufacturers understand the convenience for parents whose kids have cell phones. Marketers have picked up on features that parents look for in protection, ease, and parental controls. Some phones are marketed for kids as young as five.

How do parents decide when it’s time for their kids to have their own phone? Do we allow the media and the marketers to determine what’s right for our family? Since age five is where certain phones are targeted, is that the right age? How young is too young?

My advice as a parent is to follow your gut and make your own decision for what’s right for you and your children. Is your five-year-old mature and responsible enough for a phone? Only you can determine that. However, here are some things to think about when making that decision.

  • Can you afford it? There are several inexpensive, pay-as-you-go options for cell phones. This may be the best place to start. Getting into a contract with a phone provider can be expensive, especially if the phone gets lost, broken, or cleaned in the washing machine. (We learned that the hard way!)
  • Is it convenient for you? Are there times when you would like to get a hold of your child and can’t? Do you find yourself scouring the neighborhood, calling other parents, or even your kid’s friends’ cell phones trying to reach them?
  • Is it in their best interest? There are now times when my youngest is on her own getting ready for school or coming home. We don’t have a land-line phone so it was important for me for her to have a way to reach me, her father, or her grandparents. I feel safer knowing that she can call or text me to let me know how she is or to ask me any questions.

Once you’ve made the decision to give your child their own cell phone and you have determined the type of phone to purchase, there are still some more things to consider. What are the rules and restrictions for these phones? Setting them early will prove helpful as they get older and more independent. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The phone really belongs to you. They may have picked it out and get to carry it around, but you’re the one paying the bill. You have the right and responsibility to take the phone away and set restrictions and guidelines. You have a right to monitor their calls, texts, and photos.
  • The phone is a privilege, not a right. Privileges can be taken away for bad behavior, low grades, disrespect, or anything else. It’s a great tool for discipline. However, once I realized how convenient it is for me, I’m usually more than ready to give it back once the punishment is over!
  • Be supportive of school rules in regards to electronics. Cell phones are usually prohibited at school, but if they are off and out of sight, then there isn’t a problem. Resist the urge to text or call your child during the school day. When one of my kids has sent me a text during the day to tell me that they don’t feel well, instead of immediately coming to pick them up, I’ve learned to remind them to go to the nurse and they will call me. Don’t encourage them to break the rules.
  • Accept the fact that your child will break or lose the phone, especially if they are young. Have a back-up plan. I usually have an old cell phone lying around that we can transfer if necessary. Some parents purchase insurance. Just don’t get too upset when bad things happen to the phones. I believe my son has ruined four in the last few years.
  • Teach them phone and texting etiquette. Make sure they understand the dangers of bullying and sexting. Set clear guidelines as to when to use the phone and not to use the phone. For example, no phone at the dinner table, while driving, while in class, while having family time.
  • Don’t apologize for your decision. I’ve seen too many defensive and embarrassed looks from other parents. Whether you give a phone to a preschooler or hold out until they can purchase their own phone, you have your reasons. Don’t allow other parents to make you feel insecure about your decisions.

When Should You Give Your Child a Cell Phone?

Give your child a cell phone when you are ready for them to have one. The age and circumstance will be different in every family and can even be different for every child within the same family. Only you as a parent can make that decision. Once that decision has been made, stick to it. Don’t allow snide looks from other parents who have made different decisions to sway you. Only you know what’s best for your child. Only you know when to give them their own cell phone.

What cell phone decisions have you made in your family? Share in the comment section below. If you found this hub helpful or interesting, please be sure to vote it up! Thanks for reading!

*Check out some Cell Phone facts


Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    Sarah 5 years ago

    You guys are way too hard on your kids. I have 3 kids and am married and me and my husband and daughter have Straight Talk. Its a really good deal 45 buck a month for unlimited everything. They have a great selection of phones. And my son has Boost Mobile he is in 7th grade and needed a phone since 5th grade he pays 50 dollars a month than it shrinks to 35 dollars a month in just 1 year and a hal fjust for staying. And. My other son has Virgin Moile he's in 4th grade and I needed to keep trackofhim at After School or if he is going to a friends house he only pays 35 bucks a month.

  • profile image

    sara 5 years ago

    My daughter is thankfully to young for the "cool" phones, and just basically need it to keep track of her on her way home from school, and the prepaid tracfone is perfect for that.

  • lisabeaman profile image

    lisabeaman 5 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

    Thanks Dina! You're right, it is crucial to decide what kind of phone. Right now, the problem I'm having with my teenagers is the fact that most of the "cool" phones REQUIRE internet! Ridiculous! So finding them a phone that won't embarrass them too much or break my bank is really tough. I think it's going to get to the point where it will be more and more difficult to find those simple feature phones. Thanks for the comment!

  • profile image

    Dina 5 years ago

    Thanks for the essential pointers you’ve shared here, Lisa! I can say that it’s very crucial for parents to know when to give their children a cell phone. But the next crucial thing to decide on is the kind of phone to give to these young kids. We can’t them just any kind of phone they’re asking.

    As for me, I’ve decided to give my kids a simple cell phone. I specifically gave them the Just5 cell phone, which offers simple features and an emergency response system. It’s more practical than giving them a phone with internet connectivity as such. I just informed them that they can have a sophisticated cell phone once they are already responsible enough to handle it.

  • profile image

    gabi 6 years ago

    my kid pays me his bills of his phone he has to go to work to pay up or else there is no phone texting or calling

  • LeanMan profile image

    Tony 6 years ago from At the Gemba

    My kids all have phones, they have to foot their own bills though! But I think once kids start going off on their own to some extent it is important to have a phone on them so that you can get hold of them and them you.

  • Wendy Krick profile image

    Wendy Krick 6 years ago from Maryland

    Great Advise for parents and kids.

  • lisabeaman profile image

    lisabeaman 6 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

    @Dobson - you're right! Peer pressure and status symbols are never a reason to get your child a cellphone. Kudos to you for sticking to your guns!

    @Miss_jkim - Great way to teach responsibility! The track phones or pay as you go phones are great for kids. At this point for us, it costs less to "add a line" to my phone plan, but there was a time that we used the track phone as well.

  • miss_jkim profile image

    miss_jkim 6 years ago

    Nice hub lisa,

    This is some very practical advice for parents. My youngest daughter did not receive her first cell phone until she was a freshman in high school, and only then because she was going on a band trip.

    I bought her a Track-Phone, put $50 on it and it stayed that way for 2 years. Every month I put $50 on the phone and when she used that up, she would have to wait till the next month. She quickly learned cell phone responsibility and when she got her first "real" cell phone she knew how to manage her usage.

    My oldest two kids? They didn’t have cell phones when they were in school, and I thank heaven for that.

  • Dobson profile image

    Dobson 6 years ago from Virginia

    My daughter is 12 and does not have a cell phone. Her very best friend (has been for years) just got one and we got to hear the speech about how she is the only one in her class without a cell phone. I told her she could be proud of that. Ultimately it comes down to a fact of need. Our daughter is not in any after school program that requires her to need the phone. She is always with someone who has access to a phone which she can borrow as needed. Status symbols are useless in many cases and a phone for my twelve year old is unneeded.