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When Should I Buy My Child A Cell Phone?

Updated on August 17, 2011

It's a question every parent will eventually have to ask themselves - when should you let your child have a cell phone? Of course, you don't ever have to agree to it at all - and there are many parents that are really not that keen, for several reasons. However, the truth of the matter is that we now live in an age of advanced technology that has moved on in leaps and bounds from the childhoods we knew even a couple of decades ago. Today, a very large proportion of children do own a cell phone - especially once they reach the 7th grade, at around age 12 - 13.  By the time a child reaches the teenage years, most of his/her peers will own, and children that are not the owners of a cell phone will be in the minority.

But Is This A Good Thing?

Well, there is more than one way of looking at it. I must admit that, when first pushed for an answer to the question of 'when should I buy my child a cell phone', I was quite horrified by the idea of my child owning a cell phone point blank, no matter what the age. After all, I had read numerous newspaper articles and seen several television programs which suggested that using a cell phone can increase the risk of a brain tumor. Is this true? Well, research is mostly ongoing, and I'm not sure if there is a clear cut answer. Certainly, people who are on the phone a lot are advised to use hands free equipment (though even that may not be proven to be beneficial because it just alters the location of the emitted waves). But what about children?


Children And Cell Phones

The thing about children is that their physical makeup is not identical to that of an adult. One major study suggests that children should not use cell phones under the age of 16 because their skulls are thinner and therefore the high frequency waves from the cell phone can reach deeper into the head. Not being an expert in such matters, I can only go by what I have read myself, and in the case of my children, I prefer to err on the side of caution.

Cell phones emit radiation in all direcitons, because they have to do this in order to search for a signal. Research indicates that some of the emitted waves will be absorbed into the head for several centimetres, which is actually quite a lot when you think about it. According to ongoing research, the absorbed energy then ends up adding to the metabolic energy already in the body, therefore affecting a user's body system more than one may think. A major point when considering the impact of using cell phone technology on children is that, because a child's head is smaller in the first place, the radiation emitted will actually end up traveling further into the body. In all honesty, we do not yet know the full dangers of this assault on a young person's body - quite simply, cell phones have not been in widespread use for long enough.

Think about it - I worked in a bar in 1997 (the first cell phones were used by a select few during the 1980s). In this bar in 1997, cell phones were still an uncommon possession. In fact, as we stood behind the bar waiting to serve customers, the sound of a ringing cell phone was infrequent enough to attract everyone's attention. Would the same sound even be noticed these days? The chances are that we are all so used to the ringing and bleeping of cell phones that we wouldn't register the sound. 

So Does All This Mean I Shouldn't Get My Child A Cell Phone?

As parents, we have to make decisions based on the information we have at the time. As a parent myself, I would have to admit that I would not want my child talking frequently on a cell phone. However, I'm not entirely sure how many young people do talk that much on cell phones - texting seems to be the thing for youngsters, and lots of it at that. Texting is probably not anywhere near as bad, as it does not require the phone to be held close to the head. In fact, it is not necessary to hold it very close to the body at all.

Then there is the matter of security, and the safety of our children. Whilst (despite insinuations by the media) child abduction has not actually increased at all since the 1970s, we have become accustomed to wanting to know where our children are at all times. Not only that, but we want to know that we can contact them at any given moment. I don't think that this need for instant communication is purely beneficial to parents - children themselves know that they can always call for help, or a lift or because of a difficult or unexpected situation. This means peace of mind on all sides.

Texting And Short, Infrequent Calls Are Best

Personally, I feel that there is little point in a child having a cell phone unless they have reached an age of independence in which they are out and about alone, or with friends. And even then, texting is preferable to talking. Calls should be made only when absolutely necessary, and even then, calls should be as short as possible. Research indicates that the longer a user spends talking on a cell phone, the higher the risk for potential damage.

I would not want to buy my child a cell phone just because 'they're cool' or 'everybody has one'. I also do not think I would agree to the purchase a cell phone for a child under 12 or 13. I would be happy for an older child to carry a cell phone at times when he/she is out alone, in circumstances which might warrant a call, but then I would only want him to use it when necessary, and certainly not at school.

For these reasons, I think a Pay As You Go phone is probably better for a child. After all, most contracts mean that the user has unlimited texts and an awful lot of free minutes. Pay As You Go means that your child will have far less freedom, from a financial point of view, to make calls at will.

To sum it all up, I strongly believe that some caution should be exercised when considering the purchase of a cell phone for a child. As mentioned, I would certainly not consider a cell phone for a younger child. Texting is best, and calls should be reserved for emergencies, but there is no doubt that they can offer both you and your child peace of mind and added security.


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      Linda 7 years ago

      I searched onlie for answers about this matter, see my 11yo wanted a cellphone more than anything, so with the help of these sites I was ready to negociate my way over this issue. i got him a cellphone, finally, after setting a couple of ground rules, like no talks or text during dinner, the cellphone stays off and in the kitchen at night and most important, he would pay for it with his allowance, because I got him a prepaid phone, that way I don't have to worry about huge bills or contracts. So he picked up a tracfone cellphone, and with their service I'm confident about the expense, my son is responsible for buying his cards. No surprises.