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It seems everybody and his cat has a smartphone today. (I'm guilty too.) My son will probably demand his own phone somewhere between the age of 7 and 12. I know I can't compare to when I was a kid because the world is completely different today. So how can I decide?

  • When should kids get their own cellphone? What factors are relevant for the decision?
  • Smartphone, or plain cellphone? Why?
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6 Answers 6

I have the same basic criteria for everything like that:

  • Did they ask?
  • Have they demonstrated an ability to handle the responsibility?

For a phone, the second point would be demonstrated by showing they can take care of other prized possessions, i.e. not leaving them where my daughter can run them over with her wheelchair, etc.

The other factor to consider is the policy of your child's school. Assuming schools over there are as annoying as here, some have downright draconian rules on the subject. Make sure you're not setting him up to get it confiscated.

Myself and my three siblings were all teenagers at the same time, and we were all heavily involved in jobs and extracurricular activities. Every Sunday night we sat down for a "calendar meeting," where we copied events from each other's personal calendars, coordinated rides and meals, and planned flexible events like what day to shop. That meeting never took less than an hour, and sometimes took two or three. It was a huge source of contention, but also unavoidable.

The reason I tell you this is now that my wife and I have smartphones, our calendars are always synced with each other. This is so much nicer that I can't imagine not wanting my kids as part of the same system. Also, there are things like family chat channels and GPS tracking apps that would be useful. Obviously that opens up some potential concerns, and we might have a dumb phone as a backup in case of rule breaking or whatever, but I think in general the benefits would outweigh the risks.

Also keep in mind you don't necessarily have to go straight from no cell phone to unfettered access to one. Maybe at first it can be restricted to only calling parents. Maybe you check it out to him like a librarian only for certain occasions until he proves himself. Just make sure your rules and their consequences are extremely clear.

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+1 for checking a phone out like a librarian for only certain occasions. I think this is great way to ease your kid into the responsibility of a cell phone. –  Meg Coates Sep 26 '12 at 20:46
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Oh yes the planning meetings. I wish I could get my wife on Google Calendar too - and in a decade also the kids... Smartphones have real benefits, but also some pitfalls that they need to be mature enough to handle. As Joel suggests, it's up to me to teach that. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 27 '12 at 8:42

This is an interesting question and one I have pondered off and on even though my oldest is only 4 and a few years off before we even start the cell phone discussion. An interesting article here talks about it.

Most moms surveyed for the article indicated that the primary reasons for getting their kids cell phones were: safety, security, and convenience, and the average age ranged from 12 to 16--though one mom said that her kids had a cell phone in elementary school that they shared, and that they got their own phones when they got to middle school. They also made a valid point which is that pay phones are becoming less and less common, and one mom mentioned that as a parent it is our responsibility to teach our kids about technology and how to use it appropriately.

I think you need to consider how responsible/mature your child is in addition to really considering whether or not a cell phone is vital. If your child is going to lose a phone every time they get one, then it's not going to do them much good. Are you going to be getting text messages from your child when they should be in class? Does your child participate in after school activities which necessitates being able to get in touch with you easily in the event of a cancellation or schedule change? Is your child a latch-key kid? When it comes to deciding about the phone/usage: Are you going to require your child to pay for the phone/usage? Are they going to need a job to do that or be required to pick up extra chores around the house to cover their share?

I don't know that elementary schoolers care so much about the type of phone they have. The "cool" factor is simply that they have a phone at that age (maybe I'm wrong). Certainly by the time they get to middle school peer pressure is going to kick in and they're going to care a lot more about the type of phone they have. I've had students that had simple pay-as-you-go phones and I've had students with iPhones. Most of my students texted WAY more than they actually talked on the phone, and most of them had unlimited texting. That is the primary method of communication between kids these days.

Quite honestly, sometimes I question why I have smartphone. Does your kid really need to be able to do more than make phone calls/send and receive texts? Ask me how much time I spend on Facebook.

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"How much time do you spend on Facebook?" ;) –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 27 '12 at 8:37
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OMG! Probably a couple hours a day total because I have the APP on my SMARTPHONE! If I'm 31 years old and spend that much time on FB everyday, there's no hope for teenagers. –  Meg Coates Sep 27 '12 at 13:08
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:-D I've ditched FB but discovered how cool G+ is... problem remains. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 27 '12 at 15:01
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I can't get enough of my friends on G+ to make it worth my while, but my husband seems to be of your opinion. :-D –  Meg Coates Sep 30 '12 at 19:09
    
Yeah, I know. FB's biggest asset is that everybody's friends are still on FB so the first ones to leave will be very alone. But I've learned that FB is for old friends, G+ is for new ones. I wrote this: goo.gl/c27U8 and if you like, you could search for my name plus "facebook" to see my recent stories about this. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 30 '12 at 20:38

Every kid is different, and you know your child best, so think about your child: at what age do you think your child is ready for the responsibility? Now let me give you this counter-intuitive bit of advice: get your kid the cell phone at least one year earlier.

One thing to keep in mind is that, as parents, it is our job to teach our children about this kind of thing. We want to always be challenging our children to grow as individuals. If you wait until your child is already well-prepared, you miss out on the opportunity and privilege of teaching your child how to handle that class of challenge. Worse, you've instead ceded that task to others who don't have the same goals you do. For example, if they learn how to use the phone from friends, one of the first things discovered will be how to use it to keep information from their parents. By putting it out there earlier, it will be much easier to guide the child to learn good behavior, even if a few mistakes are made early.

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A very compelling strategy for making sure they learn from us first and not from others :) –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 27 '12 at 8:35
    
I know parents who check their kids phones nightly (text messages, phone calls) etc. And these are high schoolers! Obviously, text messages can be deleted, but if a kid knows that you're looking and paying attention, maybe that will give them pause. –  Meg Coates Sep 27 '12 at 13:15

I may be going against public opinion here, but I think that there is very little compelling reason for a child to have a mobile phone. I also don't see it as an essential for an adult - which probably explains my approach.

Despite many of their schoolmates having phones my kids have no need for one. Arranging to meet their friends somewhere teaches them to plan in advance and also to have a fallback plan if the first one fails.

Additionally, it means the parents seem to be in the loop a little more, as friends will come to the door, rather than just phoning, which gives me a little assurance over who they are playing with.

That said, there has been the odd occasion when we have had to issue a phone - when they are away travelling with friends, or away at a competition where we don't know the finishing time and we aren't sure they can borrow a phone to let us know when they are finished.

For that purpose we do have a very old nokia that has a battery life of weeks, a pay-as-you-go SIM with £5 on it and no internet functionality. It has our numbers and emergency numbers programmed in.

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I love your reasoning. The world spun just fine before cellphones were invented. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 27 '12 at 8:32
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I remember my first post-university job. Remote tech support. I'd get a call in the evening telling me where I was going the next morning. I'd drive there, sort out the computer issues, then use their phone to call my office to see where I was going next. It all just worked :-) –  Rory Alsop Sep 27 '12 at 9:23
    
The world changes, though. The same argument can be applied to email addresses, having an Internet connection at home, or heck—going back far enough in history to really underline "the world changes"—it can be applied equally to transportation options other than feet. Since structurally it's not a valid argument for any of those, I don't see how it's a valid argument for mobile phones either. That's not to say that a good argument against kids having mobiles can't exist—this just isn't it. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 13 at 18:55
    
You can live quite happily now without a mobile phone. It may be a desirable item, but it isn't essential. It's almost a luxury item. –  Rory Alsop Jun 16 at 14:20

I have a daughter and she is 7 now.

I made a decision to buy her a cellphone when she is going to get out alone. I think this is the only criteria that makes sense.

Other things may be considered, but she only needs a mobile if she is out of home alone and in this case she really needs one.

Which one? The cheapest one possible to not have a drama when lost or stolen.

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Sergey, please take care of your spelling etc. I edited.. –  grunwald2.0 Sep 28 '12 at 17:57

I think I'll let my kids have one of my old phones once they're able to pay the monthly bill themselves. They have an allowance. They can get a job if they want more.

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