When Should a Child Get a Cell Phone?

When I started college 15 years ago, cell phones were the province of rich business men. They were also huge. Now, a cell phone can easily fit in your pocket. And nearly everyone has a cell phone. The 10-year-old kid down the street has an iPhone. I don’t even have an iPhone (yet). What does a 10-year-old need with a smart phone?

kids cell phone

Can Mobile Devices Cause Social Problems?

One of the concerns that many parents have with the abundance of mobile devices is a lack of social engagement. I worried about this when my son brought his DS along on a road trip recently. The good news is that he was more than willing to look at interesting scenery, ask questions, and talk about what we were seeing. There were times when he pulled out his gaming device, but he didn’t play for more than an hour or so for each stage of the journey.

What is worrisome, though, is the idea of young kids and teens carrying on their entire social interactions on cell phones, rather than learning some of the basic social skills associated with real-world interaction. Connecting on a personal level is important, too, and there are valid concerns that too much cell phone use can lead to stunted social skills.

While mobile devices like cell phones aren’t all bad (I find it very convenient to be able to send and receive quick texts to and from my husband), it does seem a little much for young children to be absorbed in them.

So, When Should a Child Get a Cell Phone?

Of course, when you decide to give your child a cell phone is entirely up to you. My husband and I have decided that it’s probably about time to let our 10-year-old use my old slide out Tracfone when he’s away from home. He’s old enough now that he rides bikes around the neighborhood with his friends, or wants to bring someone home after school.

Having a cell phone will make it easier for him to call if there is a problem on his way home from school, or allow me to reach him (and tell him to come home) while he is playing with friends. However, I don’t see the need for him to have a smart phone. The only thing he needs the cell phone for, really, is to call me (or another designated adult) when an issue arises, or if he has a question about something. It’s more of a safety thing than it is an entertainment/keep in touch with friends thing.

Consider your child’s age, as well as his or her activities. Does he or she really need to be texting with friends half the night? Is it necessary for him or her to always be checking email? As kids get older, it can make sense to present them with more responsibility in the form of a smart phone. But I’m not sure that someone under the age of 10 really needs a cell phone — let alone a smart phone.

Do You Want the Expense?

Another consideration is the expense. My son will be getting the pay as you go phone with several hundred minutes and three years of service left on it. It will be inexpensive, and it will do what it needs to do.

Smart phones can cost considerably more. And, if you don’t get an unlimited text and data plan, and you let your child have unbridled access to the phone, you could end up with some rather unpleasant surprises. There are family plans that can help you limit the cost (and you should always get unlimited plans if you plan to let your teenagers carry their phones with them), but it can still get pricey, especially after you buy everyone a phone and then pay for the plan.

Bottom Line

Carefully consider the phone situation, and whether or not you want your child to have a phone. If you decide to go ahead with a phone for your child, think about whether or not he or she really needs a smart phone. Consider the purpose of the phone, and lay down some ground rules as to its use.

What do you think? How young is too young for a cell phone?

Phboto by Snappybex.



Author

By , on May 8, 2013
Miranda Marquit Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.

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{5 Comments}

  1. Every generation of parents are concerned with how the new and now will affect their kid. I think it ultimately comes down to how the child is raised and talking with kids about the benefits and risks, as well as the limitations the child’s parents want to set.

  2. Tammie:

    You do not want to get your child a cell phone PERIOD. Pls look up the dangers of wireless devices: There are enough articles out there now so no one can claim ignorance.

  3. Missy:

    Never. Seriously. A cell phone in the case of WHAT emergency? If my kids is about to get kidnapped, I seriously doubt the kidnapper will “Hang on just a sec while I call my mom and let her know!” Car wreck? I don’t want my child to carry the adult burden of being the one to notify emergency personnel or myself. I don’t need or want my child calling me upset when he could be getting attended to and calmed down by someone at the scene who truly knows the situation.

    There is no emergency situation that my kids will ever be in where I want them using a cell phone.

    That’s a big expense just to let my child know when to come home; I’d rather by my kids a watch (analog, of course) and teach him responsibility than to teach him that Mommy will always be there to tell m what to do.

    Kids and teens get a false sense of security when given a cell phone.

  4. My son got his first cell phone when he was 8. At the time, various family members picked him up after school when he got off the bus, and I was always scared one of them would have a car accident (or forget!) and he wouldn’t know what to do. His first phone was a brand created for small kids – he could only call the numbers I programmed into the phone, and those were the only numbers that could call in. No texting or anything like that.

    Now at nearly 15, he does have a smartphone and has had it for a little over a year. He does extra chores around the house to cover the cost of the data plan. He actually doesn’t use it very often, but it’s very convenient for him to be able to text or call friends, call me when he needs to be picked up from an activity, check his email, and (of course) watch Youtube videos.

    I think it really depends on the norms in the family. My smartphone is glued to my hand 24/7 because it’s an integral part of running my business. My son is interested in becoming self-employed someday and uses different apps to “practice” by helping me with things like invoices and support tickets from clients. He also has his own projects, like a growing Youtube channel and a Minecraft server, that sometimes require his attention when we’re away from home. I feel like I can’t really say much since (1) he pays for it, (2) he’s not addicted (though I definitely am), and (3) it would be the pot calling the kettle black if I said he couldn’t have one or didn’t need one.

    It has worked out very well for us, but I definitely think young kids don’t need smartphones, and I think the question of whether a kid needs a cell phone at all depends heavily on the kid and the family.

  5. I think it is alright to give a kid a cell phone when he is quite responsible enough to take care of his things, but I don’t think an smart phone is a good idea. A simple phone used for calling and texting is way a lot better to make him understand also that at his young age, smart phone isn’t necessary.

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