When should kids get their own cell phones?
That’s a trick question, right?
As a mother of teenagers, I am asked this question quite often because (for some reason) other parents figure that I know the answer.
The holidays are a HUGE time for parents to give cell phones as gifts. Will your kids be receiving new phones for Christmas? have you been wondering if this is the right time?
The fact is…there is no solid, cut and dry answer to this question.
Several years ago, I thought the “right” answer was 13. When KitKat was approaching legal babysitting age, we got our first “kid” phone. I figured that she would need to have a cell phone handy when she was babysitting at other people’s houses, and her social life and after-school commitments were getting busier and busier. We got a pre-paid phone with calling and texting – very basic – and it has worked beautifully. But it didn’t work the way I initially envisioned it. It turns out that not even my 13 year old NEEDED a phone.
Do they NEED a phone? Or just want one?
I’ve always been rather conservative when it comes to kids and phones. As connected as I am with my work, and as much as I love having a cell phone of my own, I don’t believe that every kid needs their own phone. The idea of keeping up with (and paying for) 8 separate cell phones and plans (that’s 7 family members plus a business line) is rather daunting. So we’ve come up with a solution that works for us…
We have one cell phone that is known among the family as the “House Cell.” The House Cell either stays at home when Mom and Dad are out, or it travels with the kids who are out for the night. The House Cell covers the basic needs – phone and texting – and the number is very rarely given out to other people. The kids know that it’s a way for us to communicate with each other. The fact is, we do a lot of communicating (with each other and friends) using free texting apps on our devices.
So back to that question – when IS a good time to get a cell phone for your kids? The answer we’ve come up with is this: families should consider cell phones for their kids when there is a need. Entitlement is not a valid reason. Neither is the age old “all my friends have phones” excuse. I survived 25 years without a cell phone, and I know (because we’ve done it for years now) that my teens don’t NEED a cell phone, either. Yes, cell phones are incredibly convenient, but they are also a huge responsibility (I’m not ready for my 11 year old to be responsible for keeping track of a several-hundred-dollar device all day long).
Now that my oldest daughter will be getting her driver’s license in the next 6-7 months, I’ve revised my “perfect” age. I’d love for her to have a phone that she can always count on having when she’s driving to and from school and her internship. For her senior year, I want her to have a phone for safety, since she’ll also be dealing with increased independence, and not just for her social life.
Staying safe with safety-minded apps for their cell phones
Once we venture out into the world of personal cell phones for our kids versus the shared family cell, I’ll be adding a few apps to maximize the safety benefits of having a mobile phone.
A few of the best safety-minded apps for cell phones (both for kids and for adults) are the Safely Family Locator (available through AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile), Drive Safe (available through Sprint), and Safely Phone Controls (available through Sprint)–all of which offer a free trial period. And of course, there’s also Safely Go, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, available for free from Google Play.
Need more advice? Here are a few helpful resources: AT&T Mobile Safety , which features age-appropriate tips, or Common Sense Media, which features an advice sections on all things digital (they also have an educators and parents section).
Do your kids have their own phones? What has been the “right” age for your family, or if your kids are younger, when do you plan on giving them their own cell phones?
This post was sponsored by Location Labs, the makers of Safely apps for families and publishers of “Safely Times,” a monthly newsletter offering tips and resources for parenting in a digital age. All opinions and “tips” are my own.
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