There was a time, not long ago, that parents never had to decide when their children were old enough to have their own portable telephone. Mainly because they didn’t really exist. Those times, however, are long gone. Today, parents are bombarded with requests for cell phones beginning in elementary school. But when is it the most appropriate to grant a child with the privilege of their very own cell phone?
A 2008 study by the Pew Research Center found that 75% of children aged 12-17 had a cell phone, and that many of those children were being given phones earlier on in adolescence. The same study concluded that a whopping 58% of 12 year olds had their very own phone. It’s important to note that these statistics are most applicable in the United States. Many countries, such as Finland, report that on average children are toting cell phones by age 8! Regardless of the statistics, however, when parents give children phones should be determined largely on individual circumstance.
Experts suggest evaluating whether or not your child really “needs” a cell phone. Is your daughter craving access to technology because her best friend has a phone, or because there’s a legitimate reason that she may need to make calls outside of the home?
Consider the following items when evaluating whether or not a realistic need exists:
-Is your child out and about without an adult often? This includes times they may go to the movies or mall with friends, or simply walking to and from a school bus stop.
- Does your child often need rides to and from sporting events or a job?
- Do you often need to get a hold of your child while you are apart?
Answering yes to any of these questions may constitute a legitimate reason to purchase your child a cell phone. However, also take the time to make sure that your child understands that the phone is to be used primarily as a communication tool, rather than a social status symbol among their peers.
Once a need has been established, parents have to consider the level of responsibility that they feel their child can handle. A number of child-friendly phones, such as the Firefly phone, allow only certain numbers to be called on a pre-paid basis. This is an ideal situation for elementary-aged children who may be using their first phone just to keep in contact with mom and dad. However, older children may not consider this a “real” phone and continue to seek a more adult-like cellular device.
Parents must also consider whether or not children are able to adhere to usage limits and set strict guidelines for minute and text usage. Ask your child how they plan to keep track of their phone? Lost cell phones are costly to replace and children should be made aware that this privilege is costing their parents cold, hard cash.
Although most children will receive a basic cell phone as their first device, many of these phones are still able to access the web and send photos. Parents may be able to disable web access through cell providers or install child-friendly browsers. However, it’s also important that children are old enough to understand the dangers of sending inappropriate pictures, browsing the web privately or giving their cell phone number to strangers.
Experts highly recommend monitoring cell phone usage by checking the bill, and the device itself, often. When your child is old enough to handle the technology of a smart phone, which allows major internet access and download capability, it may be best to give the child a hand-me-down phone from a parent to reduce costs and assess the child’s ability to responsibly use smart phone technology. Smart phones, like the iPhone or Blackberry, also require additional oversight from parents and open dialogue between families to ensure proper, safe usage.
So, what’s the best time?
Everyone agrees that there is no specific age that’s best for everyone. When to give a child a phone is nothing short of controversial among parents. Each child’s level of maturity varies greatly, as do their parents ability to pay for cell phone service and monitor usage.
The majority of studies show that over 50% of children over the age of 12 have access to a phone, leading to the assumption that the transition from elementary to middle school often signals not only the beginning of more independence…But mobile communication, as well.
Among a casual polling of friends, it seems that less than five years ago, most kids didn’t receive a cell phone until they were driving. However, today children expect, and often get phones most commonly between ages 11-14. Don’t be surprised, however, if your 11 year old is quick to misplace their phone or simply use it to call you with questions throughout the day while they should be doing homework!
If you will purchase a cellphone for your young child, make sure to check out kid-specific plans from the major carriers. For example AT&T offers Smart Limits plan that starts from $4.99 and other the major carriers also offer similar plans.
What age did you give your child their first cell phone? Would you make the same choice again, or choose a different age? Let us know!