“Everyone has a cell phone but me,” whined my 12-year-old daughter.
“Your twin brother doesn’t have one either,” I responded.
A variation of this same conversation had been going on between us for years. I knew what my daughter was saying was true, that most of her friends had a cell phone. According to a 2016 Techcrunch article, the average age of a child then he/she first gets a smartphone is age 10.
I finally caved when my twins turned 13 because it was easier for me if they had one. At that age, they entered a new school, Jr/Sr High School. They had the opportunity to stay after school to participate in activities or sports. Sometimes they also received extra help from their teachers after school, which meant varying pick up times between the two of them.
The frequent changes became confusing (for all of us) and required them to go to the school office to use the phone which meant they missed out on class time. It was much easier for me to send a quick text asking, “What time do you need me to pick you up?”, rather than waiting to hear from them.
But what age is best for your tween or teen to have a cell phone? The answer will be different for every family, and even kids within the same family, since maturity levels vary for all kids.
Here are some factors to consider:
Responsible Behaviors. Cell phones are expensive and enable your children to have access to the Internet. You want to make sure your kid demonstrates responsible behavior by keeping track and caring for personal belongings before you allow them to have their own cell phone. You also want to make sure they can be responsible regarding Internet safety.
Safety. According to a 2015 National Health Institute Survey, almost half of all American homes did not have landlines. If your tween or teen stays home alone without a landline then they may need a cell phone so they can call 911 or other emergency personnel, if necessary. Your child may also feel safer knowing they are able to contact you when they are alone. Or, they may feel safer in certain situations, like walking alone to/from the bust stop, if they had a cell phone.
Convenience. The more involved your tween or teen becomes in activities, the easier it will be for both of you if your child has a cell phone for communication because you can contact them directly to find out where they are or when they need to be picked up.
Questions to Consider
- Has your child been able to keep track of expensive items (such as jackets, headphones, iPad) for the past month?
- Has your child used good judgment when using the Internet (you can check their search history or opened apps)?
- Does your child follow rules and limits within the home and school?
- Is your child respectful of other people?
- Do you feel you can trust your child?
- Do you feel your child is responsible?
- Does your child walk and wait at the bus stop alone?
- Are there times when your child is alone at home?
- Is your child involved in multiple activities?
If you answered mostly “yes” to these questions, it might be the right time for a phone. But before you buy, discuss the responsibilities with your child of taking care of the phone and Internet safety. Remind them, using a cell phone is a privilege.