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