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When should your child get a cell phone?

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My 8-year-old daughter recently informed me she’s getting a cell phone when she’s 10. As usual, she’s not thinking about the fact that her dad and I are the ones who must agree to this, pay for it, etc. But she says there are kids at her elementary school who do use cell phones – even fellow third-graders. What could a third-grader possibly need a phone for? On a recent road trip, our daughter texted for the first time with a 13-year-old friend who was with us. 

The text conversation went like this:

My daughter: ?????????????@@@@@@@@@@

Older friend: Wow

My daughter: Wow! That’s amazing!

Older friend: I know

My daughter: actually it’s not very cool

Older friend: Yes it is

My daughter: no its not

Older friend: Yes it is

I could go on for another hour or so but I’ll spare you. I think this sample text conversation speaks for itself. We also have a 17-year-old exchange student living with us. She loves her phone and gets panicky if she can’t locate it right away. But I will say it’s been a valuable asset for us all. I know it’s always with her and that I can always reach her via text. I know she can always reach me. She regularly checks Facebook and texts on her phone and plays songs on You Tube – yet she’s not as hooked as many teens I’ve met. So I feel comfortable – as her stand-in mom – with her use of her phone. Today’s phones – or maybe we should call them what they really often are, mini-computers – can cause major problems for parents. My sister finally reached her breaking point on a trip to Costa Rica or somewhere exotic with her two sons, ages 16 and 21, who spent every waking minute (and apparently “sleeping” minutes, too) texting their girlfriends. She finally told them she wouldn’t take them on trips anymore if they were going to do that. I don’t believe the three of them have been on a trip since.

These questionable behaviors aren’t limited to teens. I recently visited a Denver elementary school and listened in on (couldn’t help it, really) a conversation in the office between a member of the staff and a boy, probably in fourth grade, who had called or texted his grandparents saying he was feeling sick and asked them to come get him. Let’s just say it didn’t go over well with the school staff because he hadn’t told his teacher or the school nurse that he felt bad. Meanwhile, the grandparents were on the way to school.

This brings me to another point. We can’t pin all this on kids. A teacher told me it’s often parents who text their kids during the school day. Who gave the boy in the above example a phone? Who told him it was OK to “phone home” during the school day? (OK, I’ve got to admit some guilt here. I have actually texted my teen during the school day, assuming she wouldn’t look at it until lunch-time or a break. My bad!)

So when should a kid get a phone? Read this great advice from two EdNews Parent experts who answer a parent’s question about whether to get a fourth-grader a phone. You get the perspective of a cop who catches Internet predators and a child psychologist. Based on these comments, I can tell you I will be holding out as long as humanly possible to get my 8-year-old a phone. Maturity – or lack thereof – remains a big issue for us.

EdNews Parent also has lots of other great information about the dangers posed to kids on the Internet and how to keep them safe. Check out this post for general tips on Internet safety. 

Wonder if sexting is real or more media hype? In this post, a Jeffco investigator says it is indeed real. 

One study found a link between chronic texting and sex. (Parents, sorry to give you even more to worry about!) 

Feel like you’re falling behind with today’s technology? You’re certainly not alone.  Check out these tips for parents at risk of tumbling headfirst into the digital divide.

Worried your son or daughter may be addicted to the Internet? Learn what this expert has to say in this helpful post

And please share your experiences and advice with us all, as we try to keep up with the latest best thing online that our kids figured out a year ago.

Julie Poppen edits
EdNews Parent, a nonprofit-funded website and newsletter targeting Colorado parents that focuses on healthy schools, teaching and learning, and school safety. Poppen is a former daily newspaper journalist most recently with the Rocky Mountain News who has covered a multitude of school issues in Fort Collins, Boulder and Denver. She’s also the mother of a third-grader, host mom to a teenaged foreign exchange student in Boulder Valley schools and regular – though not always perfectly proficient – classroom volunteer.

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson April 22, 2011

    I dread conversations like this with my 6-year-old daughter and she is honestly clueless about phones in general because we never let her use ours because it’s a business line. 🙂 However I think your guidelines are great and it’s definitely a thought-provoking topic. Personally I say the later the better but what to do when that age keeps moving up?!

  • comment avatar Mary-Frances Main April 22, 2011

    You know, our 8 year old and 10 year old both have cel phones. They’re on our family plan and they exist mostly so we can text them if we’ll be late picking them up from school OR if they’re at a slumber party and want to call us or whatever. They also take them when they walk to the park (a block away from our house).
    I actually don’t think they’ve ever called friends from the phone, just us and they are left off or mute about 90% of the time.
    I’m sure they’ll “grow into them” but this gives us a chance to show them how to properly use them.
    We got them unlimited messaging because my daughter LOVES to send us stupid text messages (sometimes from across the house) but I don’t really see the harm in that.
    They know we own the phones and will look at them all the time! 🙂

  • comment avatar Susan April 22, 2011

    We are going through this too with my 9 year old. She is too young to have her own phone and I worry she would become hooked and glued to it. I have a back-up or 2nd phone, that is just a phone, not smart in anyway. The 9yo has access to it and takes it on sleepovers, or outings with friends. But it stays in my desk and only comes out for special occasions. As she gets older, I would like to be able to reach her at school and let her know if I’m going to be late or whatever. I don’t think she’s there yet. And for someone who misplaces everything, she’s not ready to keep track of it on a regular basis.

  • comment avatar racer April 22, 2011

    I don’t think a child should have a cell phone while still in school. It is a distraction not matter what is said they come out of the backpak or pocket. What is wrong with calling the school to let the child know you are going to be late, it worked in the past so why won’t it work now. I have to ask how did you as parents now get along as children without cell phones when you were in school? As always just my opinion.

  • comment avatar Troy April 22, 2011

    The kids can have a phone when they are old enough to pay for it themselves. Otherwise, they are welcome to use the landline in the family room which sits next to the only accessible computer in the house with keylogging and internet usage tracking software installed.

    I want my kids to be comfortable with technology, but I’m not comfortable with unsupervised use until such time as they demonstrate an ability to be mature and responsible. Holding a regular part-time job will be one such demonstration.

  • comment avatar think safe April 22, 2011

    for those who think a cell phones are such a good thing for kids and you, read the article in the Highlands Ranch Herald about a mom calling her son while he was driving. The kid rolled the vehicle and killed some of the passengers. mom refuses to take responsibility for calling her son, even though the call was on her cell records. Good article for any parent even thinking about getting there kids a cellphone.

  • comment avatar brian April 22, 2011

    Every kid is different and thus it is up to the parent to determine the appropriate age. No one never said you would not have to make tough decisions when you became a parent 🙂 Same goes for driving, just because the state says you can drive at 16 does not mean you are necessarily ready to drive at 16.

    Under no circumstances should a parent be able to come back on a cell phone company or manufacturer when there is abuse or irresponsible behavior with regards to a phone. If you give your 8 year old an iPhone and they rack up thousands in the app store you better look at the 3 fingers pointing back at you when you start to point the finger.

  • comment avatar Kristine April 22, 2011

    When they can afford to pay the bill? There are 8 kids in my sons 3rd grade class with iPhones. When our son can mow lawns or something to pay for it we told him we’d talk. My husband and I grew up without money and that’s how we were raised. I think with things that aren’t necessities, or gifts, they need to do chores etc to buy things- it creates a great work ethic.

  • comment avatar Micella April 22, 2011

    I think 13 is a good age! And I agree they should have to earn it!

  • comment avatar Rhonda April 22, 2011

    My son will be 10 on Sunday… phone. My 13 yr old has one to communicate with us (parents). I won’t do a data plan for him…no internet. But 10 is way too young for one. Kids are growing up too fast these days and should not become hyper dependent on technology more than absolutely neccessary. It’s up tot he parents to unplug the kids.

  • comment avatar Jessica April 22, 2011

    Mine are 10 and 6, and they are both too young . We, the parents, do not have cell phones anyways. I’m not sure how young is too young yet. I’d consider it if they were driving though, but again, haven’t gotten there yet!

  • comment avatar Swen April 23, 2011

    This article overlooks one function of smartphones that could be very handy for parents. With an app such as Family GPS you have real time tracking of your kids and it keeps a record of their movements. Some might argue that this is “spying” on your kids but it’s a creepy old world out there and a GPS-enabled smartphone could be a lifesaver.

    If the idea of giving a five-year-old a phone is just too much to swallow you can also get stand-alone GPS units that work with the system, but I’d argue that if the kid is old enough to talk they’re old enough to start learning the proper and restrained use of the cell phone.

    Then consider the example you set. How many times every day do you see someone yakking while driving with a car full of kids? If you’re going to give your kids of any age cell phones it’s incumbent on you to set a good example and not be that person.

  • comment avatar SoccerMama April 30, 2011

    Great blog and great to hear everyone else’s experiences as well. I personally got my son a phone when he turned 14 (8th grade). To me, it was the year before he was going to high school and he started staying late after school for sports programs. It made it more convenient for him to text or call me when he was finished so I could pick him up. And he start going to the movies and mall with his friends “without his mother” so with his phone he was able to stay in touch with me. Plus I got him a Tracfone phone which is prepaid so I gave him just the right amount of minutes/texts and its for a PERFECT low price. The phone works great, its the T301 slider, so its high tech but kids these days are so smart with technology advancing. He texts me so fast! Anyways thats my experience and the only question I have is I was wondering if anyone else uses Tracfone? I’m considering switching my husband and I over to it to save some extra money… I like the results from my son’s experience with it. Let me know! 🙂

  • comment avatar Jake February 19, 2012

    My team and I are working on a new kind of service – an app that takes over any Android phone and turns it into a kid-friendly smartphone with GPS location and full parental control from the web.

    If you’ve been thinking of giving your child a phone but are hesitating and think you’d like to have some control over how your child uses their phone, our service might be right for you.

    If you’re interested, please email me at and we’ll get you set up in under 5 minutes.

  • comment avatar William Villagran October 24, 2013

    I think it is ok for kids to get cellphones. It all really depends on the age of the child and the parent. Some parents love to know where their children are at, at all times. It also has to do with finding an affordable plan for your kids because you don’t want to pay 100 bucks a month on a child’s cellphone bill every month.

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