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What is the Right Age to Allow a Child to Have a Cell Phone?

Today, children are almost born with a clear understanding of the digital age. But when is the right age to provide them with the tools to participate in electronic communication without supervision?

Monday was the first day of middle school for my 11-year-old granddaughter. Anyone who has ever been through the middle school years knows, life’s about to change dramatically for everybody involved. My daughter found that out the minute my granddaughter arrived home.

“I’m the only one in school who doesn’t have a cell phone,” she complained. “Everybody has one. Why can’t I have one?”

My daughter had to remind her that she has an iPad – in fact two. So she is digitally connected, but somewhat more supervised than a cell phone allows. She also let her daughter know that her first cell phone came along with her driver’s license. It was only after there was a possibility that they could break down on the side of the road that we allowed our children to have cell phones. And even then, it was equipped only with emergency minutes so as not to encourage talking on the phone while driving. That was before texting.

But times are different now. So when is the right age to allow a child to have his or her own cell phone? And what restrictions are recommended to ensure safety in a brave, and sometimes dangerous, new digital age?

David August 15, 2012 at 01:18 PM
18. When they have a job and can afford to pay for it. No reason to train them to think they are entitled to a cell phone just because there friends have one.
Kim C. August 15, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Since my husband and I have cut off our home phone and have chosen to use only cell phones my daughter who is 10 has a cell phone. We have a family plan. She doesn't carry her phone at school, once she gets in middle school I don't have a problem with it. The phone she has isn't a fancy one, becuase I hear of so many kids that have iphones and iPods that carry them to school and the items get stolen. I have told her once she graduates high school she can get an iphone and she can help pay for it. To me its a safety issue. This is a crazy sick world we live in and you never know when something might happen and you need a phone to call for help.
Dave Ballard August 15, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Ours (didn't/won't) get cell phones until high school, and even then it (wasn't/won't) be until they (were/are) routinely out in places other than the school or a friend's house - someplace where they're more or less anchored, responsible adults know where they are and can intervene at a moment's notice if the need should arise. The only reason for giving them cell phones at that age (instead of waiting until college) is safety: if they need a ride/are going to be late/aren't at the appointed place at the appointed time/etc., voice contact is still (nearly) always possible. If worse comes to absolute worst, they can be tracked via the phone and eventually found. The minute the privilege of the cell phone gets abused though, it goes away and they don't get to go out places by themselves for a while. That means calling and asking PRIOR to changing plans or locations, or letting Mom and Dad know you're going to be late BEFORE you get home. Above all, it means ANSWERING WHEN MOM OR DAD CALL. Every. Time. (We understand if you're in the movie theater, but that's about it for exceptions.) Highly social high schoolers learn to live with those rules remarkably quickly when failure to do so results in a sudden and complete lack of of said social life outside the home. =D
B BUIE August 15, 2012 at 06:13 PM
truthfully all kids need one because of the incompetent teachers and staff who never carry out theyre word. twice last year my 10 yr old daughter who is in elementary school participated iat the middle school for activities they would change schedules and pick up times whenever they feel like it........... then they would call me and want to know where i was at like im the bad parent!
Athens Mama August 15, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Agree with previous posts about safety issues and responsible use issues. We don't have a home phone anymore, so both my kids have a phone. They carry it whenever they leave me - and I like that we always have a direct line to one another no matter where any of us might be. However, as soon as someone is not being responsible with a cell phone, it would be taken away immediately unless I needed him/her to have it. My daughter is in eighth grade and has had a cell phone for 5 years. It has never been a problem, only made me feel better when she was away from me.
Sharon Swanepoel August 15, 2012 at 06:56 PM
I had forgotten that so many people no longer have home phones. If a child is going to be left at home alone, even if they're old enough to do so, they are going to need some sort of communication with a parent. You would assume the parent wouldn't be leaving their phone at home and not be in reach. It really is a different world now.
Vanzetta Evans (Editor) August 15, 2012 at 07:00 PM
They have simple cell phones for kids that can be programed to only dial certain numbers like mom, dad, grandma and 911. Does anyone use that or have you ever considered using that?
ret-teach August 15, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Those "incompetent teachers" have your child's best interests at heart and will always try to keep THEIR word...often bus/transportation issues will force an unforeseeable change of schedule at the last minute. They are not calling to see where you are AT, they are calling to see when you will arrive as someone will remain with your child until he/she is picked up. Perhaps you should be in the school more often and try working with the teachers instead of bashing them online.
Tammy Osier August 15, 2012 at 09:24 PM
VE - I think that's the best answer. responsible phoning- under adult supervision and control. :)
Gail Lane August 15, 2012 at 09:31 PM
So many different circumstances and type of family dynamics these days that I think it depends on the maturity of the the kid and the particular circumstances of the family. We no longer have a land line, so my girls have had cell phones since middle school. One of our hard rules? If **I** call, you better answer! The main reason for them to have the phone is for communications between our family so we can coordinate pick-up, drop off, etc. Sadly, I've come to refer to it as our digital umbilical cord.
Dave Ballard August 16, 2012 at 12:12 AM
I have also been yelled at for "not being there on time" to pick up my kids, even though I double- and triple-checked before hand, and then showed up at the previously scheduled time. they were not "just asking," they were all but accusing me of child abuse, and then threatening me with legal action when I had the temerity to defend myself against their ridiculous accusations. She is not bashing all teachers, she is bashing the ones that have specifically caused needless issues through their incompetence. I possess huge respect for educators in their professional capacity, but I am not naive enough to believe that 100.0% of them have my child's welfare at heart 100.0% of the time. Some few are downright useless, to the point of being dangerous. Unless you somehow miraculously know exactly what all of those teachers to whom B BUIE was referring were thinking, I would suggest not presuming to tell B BUIE anything except what YOU tried to do in such situations. Perhaps if they actually LISTENED to parents when they came in to discuss issues, instead of bashing them online...
Susan August 16, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Boy I feel old. I have a cheap Trac phone which I carry if the car has problems or kids have an emergency. Other wise I don't like them. Employers contact you after hours, off the clock- to much, so turn it off -your not getting paid. I still have the home phone just because my parents are home all day and it's easier for them to hear on the receiver. For kids it has been the biggest waste of time of the century. Their communication skills have really suffered. No one plans ahead-it's "I will call you when I get their". Or they will call you everytime they travel to another location-where did being responsible go to? My own brother lives on the thing. Most men in my subdivision are on the cell phone before they even get out the driveway. Crazy.
Dave Ballard August 16, 2012 at 08:37 PM
We have a house phone primarily because the phone company still provides in-line power. This meant that during the Snowmaggedon, when the power was out for days and everyone's cell phones were out of juice and not chargeable, we still had phone service. Once they decide to drop that service, we'll drop that phone, I'm sure. For short term outages it's not as crucial, but I still worry a bit that OCHS, for instance, has gone to a VoIP system. Kill the power, and you've killed the office phones, and in such a situation the only source of information will be all the kids inside with their cell phones!
deanna August 17, 2012 at 10:53 PM
My daughter who is 11 started Middle school this week and came home today telling me the same thing now I can tell her she is not alone there is another child just like her! I think if they are always in adult supervision where there is a phone there is no need to have one in 6th grade.
Sharon Swanepoel August 17, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Ah, I will pass the information onto my daughter. There are now two of them, alone in the phoneless, sixth-grade world. :)
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Laura Cope August 31, 2012 at 11:41 PM
I agree. I feel the question should actually be: What is the Right Age to Allow an Adult to Have a Cell Phone and Car Keys?

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