Deciding When Your Child Should Get a Cell Phone

For parents with tweens, there comes a time when your child will decide that he or she must have a cellphone. They will whine and cry that her social life will be “ruined” because they can’t text or talk to their friends.


You already know that this whining is unnecessary. However, you may also want the child to have a cellphone for several reasons. For example, if she’s started going to school or coming home on her own, you may want to keep in touch with her at any time.

However, getting your child a cellphone comes with different concerns:

  1. Cost. How much should you spend on the phone? Does it make sense to pay upwards of $200 on a device that can be easily lost or broken?
  2. Expensive charges. Are you ready for astronomical bills resulting from the child buying apps or Candy Crush lives without understanding the repercussions of the decision on your finances?
  3. Crossing the boundary. How will you handle situations where your child posts or shares something inappropriate, for example, sexually explicit videos or photos?
  4. Cyberbullying. Having a smartphone exposes your child to the ever-present danger of cyberbullying. Social media can also expose your child to what they are missing out on.
  5. Screen zombie. When it’s time for dinner or homework, will your child be able to put the phone down? With the apps, shared content and other attention-sucking features on smartphones, how will you handle the possibility of the child being glued to the screen all the time?

The above are all valid concerns for any parent. However, we cannot also deny the benefits of a smartphone. Therefore, you should tread carefully if you want to get your child a smartphone.

What is the Right Age to Get Your Child a Phone?

When is your child ready to have her own phone? 8, 10, 12 or perhaps 15 years?

According to Jerry Bubrick, a child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, there is no ‘right’ time to get a child a smartphone. Age is not important when you are faced with this decision. Instead, you should consider how “mature” the child is.

For example, you can have a 15-year old with a smartphone that is immature and will act-out on the phone and have a responsible 12-year old. As a parent, you need to determine how ready your child is for a phone.

Here are some things that can guide your decision:

  1. How responsible is your child with the items you give her? Does she frequently lose things, even those that you stress are important?
  2. Does your child have some discipline when it comes to handling money? Has she started doing some tasks at home to “earn” money and does she understand that things around the house cost money?
  3. How easily does the child pick up social cues? If she’s slow to catch up, this can lead to problems when she’s using the phone. For example, what would happen if she texts a friend “hey” repeatedly and the friend does not respond?
  4. Is your child tech savvy? Does she know that her activities online can be dug up or tracked by future college admissions staff, colleagues, and employers? Does she know that what she is posting can have long-term impacts on her career prospects?
  5. Finally, will your child be able to control herself from getting glued to the screen? If the child currently has a problem getting off the couch and switching off the TV or stop playing the console, chances are that she’ll have a difficult time putting the phone down.

What Options Do You Have?

From the above questions, you should know how ready your child is for her own cell phone. If you feel she is not ready to be trusted with a smartphone, you can provide a limited-functionality phone. For example, Sprint’s “WeGo” is a great child-friendly phone to consider. The phone has GPS tracking, and you can program it to receive or accept calls and messages from specific numbers. Moreover, it has a string that can be pulled to set off a panic alarm.

However, if you are considering providing a limited-functionality phone, keep in mind that the child will eventually need to learn how to use a smartphone. Therefore, you may want to occasionally give her a smartphone so that she is exposed to social media and knows how to make decisions around it appropriately.

If you decide that your child can handle a fully-functioning phone, it’s important to set some clear guidelines before providing the device. For example, you may want the child to know that you have a right to their password and can take the phone any time to check it.



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