Parenting Technology

When Should You Give You Child a Cell Phone?

photo by Sheilaz413 @

At what age is it appropriate to give a child a cell phone, and what are the responsibilities and expectations that come along with having one? Do you get the least expensive “pay as you go” plan? Include text? Or go full-blown Internet access?

What are the consequences (if any) if the phone is lost?

18 thoughts on “When Should You Give You Child a Cell Phone?

  1. My kids got cell phones at age 10. We rationalized that there are at so many practices during the week, they needed to call us if practice got cut short. Realistically, they just wanted them. They communicate almost exclusively via text, not voice, so your bill may be sky high if you don’t have unlimited text.
    Typical conversation:

    C ya

    Wait — that’s from my wife and I!

  2. Until they can pay for their own cell, they should not have one. Get them a beeper instead. (I wish I still rocked a beeper!) 🙂

  3. I always told my kids that they were old enough to have a cell phone as soon as they were old enough to be left unsupervised — otherwise the adult with them would have one anyway.

    When my son takes his bike down the street, I usually give him mine.

    He will probably get his own next year (same age as his sister did) because he may need to contact us and let us know if he’s taking the late bus home any day.

  4. We were opposed to kids having cell phones til they were old enough to pay for their own…..UNTIL the day I want to pick my daughter up from school, and she never came out. After a half hour of panic (the school even paged her), she came out. She and a friend had been helping a teacher move things to storage, and had lost track of time. THE SECOND episode involved some bad weather and a bus home that never showed up. At 5:30, we, the school, and several of our friends were in a panic when the bus showed up.

    Those horrible minutes of wondering “where was my child” were enough for us to decide the time was right for a cell phone.

    Limits: she was responsible for keep it charged and making sure it was ON as soon as school let out (lots of trouble for having cell phones ring in lockers during the school day); she HAD to have it on her at all times, and DAMN WELL better answer it if we were calling her!!!

    Limitations: no texting or chatting until she was willing to earn the money to add texting onto the plan (we didn’t bother to tell her we had unlimited calls….lol). Enough lazy time on the internet and phone at home. She didn’t need that on a phone too!

    That being said, she’s moved onto an iPod, and we gave up the phone. She texts/emails us what she needs or if she needs a ride.

    We do send a phone with her (or her siblings) if they are out bike riding or playing in the neighborhood with kids (but, we’ve had trouble in the area with a car stalking children, so we’re extra cautious these days….).

    It’s nice to know they can get a hold of us in an emergency!

  5. Interesting question! We gave both our girls cell phones in middle school and justified them as “safety tools” so they could reach us whenever they needed.

    Then texting became the rage and before I knew it, we were texting back and forth during the day about after school activities, pick-up times, etc. By chiming in, I got them into trouble more than once! A phone was once confiscated and we had to pick it up from a drawer load in the principals’ office.

    My high-schooler and I (guilty Mom) still sneak an occasional text back and forth. General stuff like, “Mom, I forgot my sneakers,” or “Mom, can you give my friends and I a ride to the Y after school.” We both appreciate the simplicity of communication and believe the “I Love You’s” at the end of each text are well worth the risk of punishment!

  6. We are on the fence right now about getting our 10 year old a cell. I know there is the age old argument of “we didn’t have them growing up and we turned out okay”:…blah. blah…..I think our lives may of been easier and safer had we owned cell phones then. I also like the idea of being able to locate my child if he stays late at a neighbor’s house. Sometimes kids in my neighborhood “house hop” on summer nights and it’s easier to track them down that way. We will probably just add another line to our family plan. I think its $9.00 through Verizon. He will be getting a hand-me down from our used collection. No new fancy phone; just the basics.

  7. I think I heard it on the Today Show that the appropriate age to give children a cell phone is 7, one of the phones you program numbers into and they can only call those numbers. I think 7 is still pretty young to have such a responsibility. Even in high school I didn’t have a cell phone (not all that long ago…)and when I needed to get ahold of my parents because I was going to be late or had forgotten something I used the pay phone at the school. My feelings are that there aren’t many places that kids go that don’t have a phone nearby, or like someone else said, a parent who has a cell.

    1. A few people have suggested that if your child is involved in enough activities to justify it– for example, after-school karate. Now, most of those places have phones which children can use to notify parents should it run late, or get out early, but I feel like that sort of answer is simply a good justification.

      Having a cellphone when you’re either at school or at home really is too much responsibility for most children.

  8. When I am certain my 11-year-old daughter understands the basic etiquette of using a phone, and her level of activity justifies the need, then I’ll consider it.

    My example is that her friends who DO have phones regularly call our home phone multiple times before leaving messages. (As in, 4 or 5 times. If we’re not there it is no big deal, but try to be having a discussion or eating dinner while the phone rings 20 times in a row.) I’ve also had to have discussions with two of her friends who have had my cell phone # from some play date or other and decided to start calling ME looking for my daughter. I don’t want to reward this behavior by giving her her own line.

    One other point: it’s a slippery slope. She has a brother who is 3+ years younger, and despite our best efforts it’s usually just a matter of time before the little one gets early privileges.

    1. For me, phone etiquitte was drilled in early–
      1) 9am-9pm only, unless they’re in college and keep the 11am-1am hours that seem to go with college.
      2) Always leave a voicemail, then wait for them to get back to you. People really do check messages when they get home, and leaving 5+ messages doesn’t help anyone.
      3) If you know it’s not their personal number, one call is sufficient unless you’ve been told to call back.
      4) If you know your friend’s family has a set dinner time, leave them alone during that time period.

      Of course, none of us had cellphones until late highschool, or the start of college for a variety of reasons. (The first being that I graduated in 2005, and cellphones were still rather big and clunky back then. The second being that we didn’t have cell service where I grew up until 2004 or so)

  9. My daughter got a cell phone at the start of 6th grade. She was (finally) taking a bus to and from school. After her father failed to show up on time to pick her up off my front porch she got a cell phone and a set of keys (that’s a whole ‘nother story due to her choice of father…Oh, that was my choice, oops). Cell phone use was limited to three people….Me, my mom and the child’s father. It stayed that way for a year.

  10. Adrienne got her first cell phone for her Bat Mitvah. Jamie was supposed to wait that long also, but I gave into “a hand-me down” phone because of the “I need to be able to reach you” argument. I think it’s really hard to put limits on usage (type, ie. texting and calls, and time amounts) once they have the phone, unless you are really good at setting limits and following through in general. Texting is actually really fun, so it’s just as easy for adults to get hooked. Definitely go with an unlimited texting family plan from the beginning!

  11. I feel like I say this a lot, but I came from a really small town. A town in the middle of nowhere, on the California coast. We didn’t have cellphone service, we still don’t. I always had quarters for payphones, so I could call my parents and let them know when we would be back from our away games. (I played volleyball and basketball from 6th-12th grades, and that added up to a lot of away games.)

    We did eventually get signal in a few of the larger towns in our area, so my sophomore year of high school, I convinced my step-dad to buy me a cellphone. Texting wasn’t big– I just got phone service. No internet. (Edge was fast, back then.) This was only 7 years ago. (Wow, I feel old saying that, and I know I’m not old enough to justify it…)

    My sister turns 9 in August, and if she can be “good” until then, she’ll be getting a pre-paid cellphone for her birthday. I believe she’s young for it. She’s either at school or home, her friends don’t have them, and she doesn’t participate in extra-curricular activities. I don’t think she needs it. But she’s been wanting a laptop since I got my newest one (my first laptop was 2005– my freshman year of college– my newest was 2009, when the first one died) and will be getting that for Christmas if she can be “good.” I don’t think she’s ready. I think her age should be at least two digits long, and she should be doing something outside the home to justify having it.

    But then, I’m her big sister, not her mother. Her mom will decide, and I won’t have a vote. I feel like there should be a better reason to have a phone than “I want one!” (A few people above have listed some very, very good reasons, like their child being away from home a lot)

  12. The short answer is – not yet. For us anyway.
    We’re lucky to live in a small community. There are lots of people we know about the place. The children can walk home if necessary. If unforeseen events happen – so be it. We wait or they wait.
    Somehow I survived childhood and adolescence without a cellphone.
    For a child at school, a cellphone can be a distraction, a target for theft, a cash devourer.
    However, at some point we may have to skip the cellphone and go straight to an iPhone or something similar – to access useful resources, web, camera, etc. Rather than provide the means for incessant chatter.

  13. I did a teaching prac last year… Children in Primary school (elementary school I think you call it in the USA) have cell phones. I think, yes they are good for safety reason with children but don’t go and get wham pow awesome ones. Not only is there a chance of getting lost or stolen, but it verifies that mobiles are a way of life for young people.

    Pre-paid is the key, make them get prepaid and make them pay for it out of pocket money so they understand how much it is costing them. The other option is to have a family mobile, where if kids go somewhere they need to contact you from they can take the family mobile which otherwise stays in a draw.

    It’s like the internet, know what your kids are doing with them.


    xx Actionwolfe

  14. I think 10 plus depending on the child and there proven reliability for now our kids run around the neighborhood with a walkie talkie.

  15. I think it’s insane for any kid under 14-years old to have a cell phone. I got a cell phone when I was 16, and I was fine without one before then. My parents and grandparents made it through life without a cell phone and they had no problems; why would an 11-year old NEED a cell phone? I think they are more of a convenience than a need. Who does an 11 year old need to call anyway besides his or her mom or dad? If a kid is out at a friend’s house, he or she can use a house phone to call his or her parents: no need for a cell phone. I think a good age to get a cheap cell phone for a kid is 14 at the youngest. Just when a kid enters high school, so it’s a easier way to check up on them. No text plan, no internet, just a good old fashioned cheap cell phone for 30 bucks a month.

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