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At what age should I give my child his own cell phone?

At what age should I give my child his own cell phone?

When my son turned 10 this month he asked for a smartphone and a service plan. “Hmm,” I mused. “I’ll have to think about that. What about …” and before I could complete my sentence, he was way ahead of me. “A real phone, not a Firefly phone!” He was referring to Firefly Mobile, a kind of kid-friendly phone that can come with a pre-paid service — more about that in a minute. It’s unavoidable, I now have to wrestle with the question: How do I know if my kid is ready for his own device? And if he is, how do I decide what it should be?

This may already be a moot point for some parents — your child is already running around with the tablet or phone they got for Christmas. But if it’s not too late, here are a few questions you should ask yourself first.

1. Does your child NEED a cell phone to keep in touch with you in case of emergencies? Every family situation is different, but the older kids get, the more independence they take on — and the more helpful it is for them to have a direct line to you. A 6-year-old, on the other hand, is probably surrounded by responsible caretakers 24/7. No need for a phone of their own in that case.

2. What can you afford? Because these little electronic toys and tools can get expensive — not only the equipment, but the plan. I just found out how much it would cost me a month to add a second smartphone to my plan — yikes! Think about getting a tablet, some of which are Wifi-only. And look for pre-paid cell phone plans like Firefly Mobile and Cricket Wireless, which will help ensure the phone doesn’t become another money-eating plaything … yet.

3. Does your child respect limits? If you’re already having trouble getting your child to respect screen time and do their homework, they’re probably not ready for their own device, period. Don’t create a new battle. On the other hand, the promise of a new device could be just the incentive your kid needs to change behavior.

4. Is your child familiar with Internet and cell phone safety? Do you have time to teach them? Make sure they know not to accept phone calls from a strange number, give out their phone number to people without your permission, text or accept sexually explicit images or download just any app. This will require more than a 10-minute lecture.

5. Does your child lose their belongings? All the time? What about treating objects carelessly and breaking them? Think about how much money you want to spend replacing phones and tablets. (Probably nothing, right?)

6. Can you model good habits for your child? If you have problems setting and adhering to your own boundaries around electronics, you’re not going to do a good job of helping your child respect their limits. Get your own act in order first.

A few other things to consider:

1. Cell phones and tablets expose your child to radiation. We don’t know everything about the radiation coming to and from cell phones, but while your child’s brain is still developing that might be something you want to be cautious about.

2. Don’t let your child sleep with their cell phone. This could be the start of a bad habit. Kids need uninterrupted sleep; taking a cell phone to bed could lead to staying up too late surfing and texting.

3. Check out Common Sense Media’s Parent’s Guide to Kids and Cell Phones. It’s got a lot of great advice on deciding whether or not your child is ready for a cell phone, and managing cell phone use once they have one.

If you feel like getting your child their own phone or tablet is a big deal, well … that’s because it is. But it’s not so difficult that you have to punt the decision for another couple of years. Just consider all the issues. It may be that you and your child are almost ready, but need to do some preparation first.

Adriana Velez
Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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  1. Absolutely not in elementary school. Middle school, yes.

  2. It differs for every family. Something I think is crazy is when parents hand over smart phones to kids without doing any parental controls. There are so many bad things on there and with unlimited acces, that can mean trouble

  3. My husband’s response: “As soon as they move out and can pay for it themselves.”

  4. My son is turning 10 this summer and is insisting that everyone who turns 10 has a phone. I know that this is not true – and I don’t believe he needs a phone at 10. Perhaps age 12 – between 7th and 8th grade when he has more independence and has demonstrated more responsibility…

  5. I saved this article that you posted in Jan 2013. I love it and I will give a list of rules similar to my boys when they are 13 and get a phone.

  6. I haven’t decided yet. I personally didn’t receive one until i turned 18 and could pay the bill myself! I also didn’t receive a car from my parents. It taught me to work for the things that I want.

  7. My son got one for his 13th birthday, he was in 8th grade

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