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.