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What is the Right Age to Allow a Child to Have a Cell Phone?

Today, children are almost born with a clear understanding of the digital age. But when is the right age to provide them with the tools to participate in electronic communication without supervision?

School began earlier this month for most schools in Georgia.

Monday was the first day of middle school for my 11-year-old granddaughter. Anyone who has ever been through the middle school years knows, life’s about to change dramatically for everybody involved. My daughter found that out the minute my granddaughter arrived home.

“I’m the only one in school who doesn’t have a cell phone,” she complained. “Everybody has one. Why can’t I have one?”

My daughter had to remind her that she has an iPad – in fact two. So she is digitally connected, but somewhat more supervised than a cell phone allows. She also let her daughter know that her first cell phone came along with her driver’s license. It was only after there was a possibility that they could break down on the side of the road that we allowed our children to have cell phones. And even then, it was equipped only with emergency minutes so as not to encourage talking on the phone while driving. That was before texting.

But times are different now. So when is the right age to allow a child to have his or her own cell phone? And what restrictions are recommended to ensure safety in a brave, and sometimes dangerous, new digital age?

Pam J August 29, 2012 at 11:11 PM
Gosh, I wouldn't want to be a parent of small children today. It's got to be tough deciding when they are old enough to do this and that. But use the same logic my parents did when I was a kid and I complained that my friend had the new Barbie or a new bike, so why couldn't I have one. The answer? Because I am your mother and they are not. Sure, I was mad, but I got over it. I think that nowadays parents don't really want to parent. I know it's tough with all the new technology and all, but that should not make any difference. Be a parent. You are the grownup. You are the one paying for everything.
Susan Eppley August 30, 2012 at 10:41 AM
Children should have a cell phone as soon as they can afford to pay for the phone AND the service. Parents tell me that their child "needs" a phone for safety. I say the child can have a pre-paid one for very little money, money they can earn doing extra chores. The parent usually begin explaining why their child needs the latest version of a $500 phone with an expensive cell/data/text plan. Hogwash! I tell my clients that it's not about the phone. It's about responsibility. When a child is ready for an expensive luxury item, the parent will know because they child will be able to afford said luxury item! And how will that parent feel when the brand new smart phone is cracked, lost, or worse (and very common recently) stolen right from their 11-year-old's hands? I also tell clients that one of our jobs as parents is to distinguish the "needs" our children proclaim from the "wants." To a child, everything is a "need." We must use our experience and wisdom to know that a cell phone for an 11-year-old is a want! Last thought: Like I told my daughter's father who was trying mightily to convince me that she needed an iPhone for her 11th birthday, "I understand you're concerned about an emergency situation. But If all her friends have phones, she won't need one. One of her friends can call 911."
Kim August 30, 2012 at 11:49 AM
I believe the need for a child to have a cell phone comes when the family determines that the child will need to have access to parents 24/7. Middle school was a perfect time for us - but that was based on what the family needed to do to get kids to appointments and activities. I was one of the first Mom's to give my kids a cell phone and it made my life so much easier. I also added a locator program so that I could tell where my kids were at any time. I saved a bundle in finding lost phones and saved many hours of worry knowing where my kids were. Its a family decision.
C. Vinson August 30, 2012 at 03:38 PM
I have not children, but I'm glad to hear people express my same point of view. I realize we live in a different world, but handing a cell phone to a young child seems like you're asking for trouble.

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