When Should Kids Have Cell Phones? Savvy Parents Reveal Best Strategies
At what age should kids have cell phones? That’s something all parents are wondering today!
Are there guidelines that will make your decision easier? Or ingenious new products that can give your child the ability to call you without granting them total access to the internet?
We asked members of our Facebook Parent Discussion group: “What age do you let your children get a cell phone? And why?”
The responses were brilliant! In fact, one of the parents recommended the discussion be included in a parenting manual. For now, let’s start with an information-packed blog post!
Should kids have cell phones? Many parents have good reasons
1. Safety and a parent’s peace of mind
One parent was going back to work and wanted her child to have a phone to be able to call at any time. Another parent wanted her child to have a cell phone for safety while they were riding the bus to and from school, explaining, “We needed the sense and security that she could get a hold of us if she needed anything.” Another mom felt her daughter should have a phone when she went babysitting, since fewer and fewer people have landlines anymore.
2. To use at school for class work
Apparently some teachers are asking kids to use their personal devices to do in-class research. However, a teacher in our Facebook group pointed out that kids should not be required to use their personal devices in class. If students in your child’s class are being asked to look up information on their personal devices:
“You should feel free to address this with the principal, as that is certainly not school policy to have students using their personal devices to do significant amounts of research . . . It sounds like their teacher has let things slip a bit and just needs a reminder to be more on the ball with booking the tech, or to plan lessons that make use of books or the smartboard instead of students’ phones.”
Linking cell phones with responsibility
Several parents have a policy that their children need to be old enough to pay for their own phone and monthly service. “I think it is very easy to be trained to take certain conveniences for granted and this one is costly in up-front and month-to-month costs . . .” Another mom commented, “If he [her son] wants a smartphone, he’ll have to wait until he can pay for it on his own.”
A few parents tied the use of a smartphone to certain milestones and conditions:
- “16, if they are driving and have a job and have good grades.”
- “None of our kids got phones before 16. Only then if they kept good grades and a job so they could pay for their phone. We paid the basic plan fees so the phone still belonged to us and they were renting it to use each month. If poor grades or behavior get their phone taken away, they do not get a refund.”
Other parents require a signed contract and enforce consequences for not keeping the rules. “When we gave phones to our boys, we had them sign an acceptable usage contract and we made sure they understood it. They both have had infractions that caused them to lose their phones 1x each.”
Several parents brought up the Wait Until 8th initiative to address the big decision parents are considering: should kids have cell phones? “The Wait Until 8th pledge empowers parents to rally together to delay giving children a smartphone until at least 8th grade. By banding together, this will decrease the pressure felt by kids and parents alike over the kids having a smartphone.” Even Bill Gates did not allow his kids to have phones until they were 14!
Some kids are actually grateful to not have a smartphone
Although many kids beg for smartphones at early ages, they might just be grateful that their parents said, “Not yet.” One mom shared that her teens were glad they didn’t have smartphones.
”They did complain that all their friends have their own smartphone, but mostly because they do not like to ‘be different’ by not having a smartphone. My oldest one told me that she actually is grateful not to have a smartphone because she thinks she would waste so much time on it and it would be a shame . . . My 16- and 14-year-olds recently went to a birthday party where half of the time the other teenagers were on their phones. They came back home and told me that they were grateful to not have one!”
This mom also made sure she modeled appropriate phone use herself by using it deliberately and not letting it interfere with her family relationships.
“They also see how I use mine, meaning I am not attached to it, when I'm home my cell phone is usually in ‘his place’ and stays there . . . We also have this rule that the electronics are used for a purpose, not because we are bored."
Here’s a sad story from a second-grade student whose mom is always on her phone. (Originally posted on Facebook.)
Cell Phone Alternatives
It’s clear that many parents in the group are not comfortable granting kids a pocket portal to the internet. Happily, there are alternatives! Here are some hardware and software solutions suggested by our Facebook Parent Discusson group members:
- Gizmo Gadget ($149) by LG through Verizon. “I got my kids these GPS watches from Verizon called GizmoGadget. $149 each but only $5 a month on your cell plan.” It allows up to 10 contacts to call and receive calls. You can send short texts and locate it via GPS, and monitor it from an app on your phone. It has options for simple fitness tracking. Waterproof, too! Available in Red or Navy.
- GizmoPal 2 ($79) by LG through Verizon. “My kids (9 and 10) have them and I love them. They can only call 4 programed numbers and only those 4 numbers can call them. They have a GPS tracker on them too!” Available in Pink or Blue. It sends notifications if your child crosses set GPS boundaries. Waterproof.
- Relay by Republic Wireless ($149 for 2 devices, $199 for 3 devices, $99 for an add-on device). A screen-free “walkie talkie” device that kids can carry in their pocket. Durable and water resistant, single button communication, nation wide range. Kids can also speak messages to text to your phone. Comes in several colors. $6.99 a month service charge per device. More functionality coming (music, games, Google assistant, etc.).
Mobile Phone Tech Solutions
If you decide your child is ready for a cell phone, there are lots of great tech options to help! These go hand-in-hand with ongoing conversations about how kids are using their phones.
- Flip phones (aka voice phones): Yes, they are still available and can be a great option to allow kids to call and text without internet access. Some teens find they prefer them!
- Pre-paid phones: When it’s the right time to get a phone, you can start with a less-expensive pre-paid phone that will limit the amount of data and minutes your child can use. Search online for “prepaid phones” and you’ll find several affordable options. Be sure you also set up some parental controls with these phones!
- iPhone Parental Controls: If your kids have an iPhone, be sure to set up the iPhone parental controls that are already on the phone. You can restrict apps, content types, privacy settings, cellular data use, and more.
- Android Parental Controls: With the free Google Family Link app, you can restrict apps, manage SafeSearch, control app permissions, set screen time limits, see the phone location, and more.
- Disney Circle and Circle Go: Circle manages all the devices using Wi-Fi in your home, while Circle Go adds protection to mobile phones when kids use 4G LTE and Wi-Fi networks away from home. Both services include filters, time limits and even a feature to reward kids! (Circle is a one-time cost of $99, add on Circle Go for $4.99 per month for 10 devices)
- Covenant Eyes: For some teens, accountability software is a valuable tool. Covenant Eyes doesn’t filter the content on phones, but sends a report of internet activity to a parent or other accountability partner so that they can talk about it with their child. ($15.99 per month for everyone in your family).
A Purposeful 4-Level Plan
One parent shared how her kids get increasing access to technology as they grow:
- The Verizon Gizmo Gadget watch at around age 5.
- A flip phone that allows them to call and text at age 8.
- A smartphone without data so they can call, text and use it at home for games and filtered internet at age 12.
- A smartphone at age 14 (or freshman year in high school) with filtering like Circle by Disney.
Should kids have cell phones at the right age and with the right tools? Devising a graduated plan like this for your family is smart parenting. You may want to change the ages and products, but mentoring children with increased responsibility over time is the way to go!
Talking to kids about cell phones
While deciding when kids should have mobile phones and then setting up parental controls is important, setting clear rules and starting out with regular check-ups about using phones is just as critical, if not more so.
Make the rules very clear from the start:
- Remember that you are the parent. The phone is your property, and you have the responsibility to take it back if needed.
- Let them know you will regularly take a look at their pictures, texts, apps, and messages.
- Talk about when it is ok to use the phone - such as rules for school, during dinner, homework time, and bedtime.
- Many parents have all mobile devices charge overnight in their bedroom or another safe place.
- An easy-access camera is a major feature of cell phones. Talk about taking and sharing photos appropriately and respecting people’s privacy.
- When kids are old enough for access to a smart phone, they are old enough to have open conversations about sharing nudes (sexting) and other sexual behaviors that go on via mobile phone. Exposure to pornography is possible, as well as sexualized bullying, sexually suggestive conversations with other kids, body image issues from social media, and contact with predators.
- There are lots of positive benefits to mobile phones too! Let kids share why they are excited to have a phone and frequently talk about good things they can do with this amazing tool. How can they brighten someone’s day with a kind call or text? How can they share photos that inspire and encourage others? Be sure to praise kids for good behavior with their phones!
Do your kids have a clear action plan for when they see pornography? Help them build their internet defense skills by reading Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids together!
Your Family Phone Contract
There are lots of great resources to help parents with this big responsibility. With these ideas and more from this super list of cell phone rules and these ideas for a social media contract, you are ready to set some clear phone safety boundaries with your kids. Define your rules in a written agreement, have kids sign to make it official, and keep it visible so you can review it regularly together.
We also recommend that the parent be the one to purchase the device. That way it is very clear who owns the device. This helps to alleviate arguments in the future about the phone belonging to the child.
As you know, your own children are also affected by the way their friends use mobile phones. We’re all in this together, so please share this post with your friends and family!