The right age for cell phones

After much thought and deliberation, and even more pleading on my daughter’s part, this last year I caved and bought my (then) nearly 12 year old daughter a cell phone. It came down to this: as her independence grew, I needed a way to contact her at all times, and a way for her to contact me should she need anything. And while I now grumble over my nearly doubled phone bill, and the fact that she is more than likely to be hunched over it texting (thank goodness for unlimited texting plans) rather than making emergency phone calls, I am still of the opinion that I made the right decision. It has been a lifesaver when I’ve had to pick her up from school. I can simply text her and let her know where I am parked. And when she is at her dad’s house, we are still able to communicate through a quick text or phone call. And since she is now able to stay home on her own when I need her to, it’s comforting to know that she is only a phone call away.

Apparently I’m not alone in this decision about whether the age of 12 is old enough for a cell phone. In a study done just last year, 58% of 12 year olds now own a cell phone, a sharp rise from only 18% in 2004. Referred to as the iGen (or whatever they are planning on calling this group of technologically advanced youngsters), kids 12 and younger seem to have an advanced understanding of the internet and all things electronic. With the starting age of cell phone users getting younger and younger, it makes sense. After all, they were born into an era when everything seems to be centered on technology. And with the influx of smart phones, this truth has only been magnified. I read recently that teens spend about 7 hours a day on the internet. School takes up a good majority of their day, so it’s safe to say that the rest of their time is spent on the net. Knowing how my iPhone has been both a blessing and a curse for being able to peruse the web any time I want, I’m certain that this is the also the reason for the rise in internet usage among the younger generation. Note: While my daughter owns a simple smart phone to make texting easier, I have headed off the internet usage (and thereby, the internet charges) by simply rerouting her network on her phone so that it dials up an imaginary network – bringing her to an error page rather than anything on the net. Another option with many companies is to set limits on your child’s phone if you don’t wish them to connect to the internet, or to rack up hundreds of dollars in 10 cent texts that mostly consist of “lol”.  kk?

But, as many parents still wonder, is 12 still too young to be connected at the hip 24/7? And being that I’ve even seen kids as young as 5 with their own cell phones, as well as parents of 14 year olds who believe their child is still too young for that kind of responsibility, it makes me wonder – when is the right age to carry a cell phone? And besides making phone calls, should a kid’s cell phone also be able to connect to the internet?


8 thoughts on “The right age for cell phones

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  1. I don’t know if one could really say there is a ‘right age’…I think the decision would be largely dependent on the values of the parents, the family situation (is the child likely to need an ability to call their parents…e.g. parent/parents that work a lot, leaving the child home alone, or a child involved in a lot of extracurricular activities that keep them late after school or take them out of town for meets?), and most of all, the maturity level of the child in question. I have known some 9 year olds who were fully responsible enough to handle having a cell phone, and some 15 year olds who were not (who am I kidding? I have known some 25 year olds who aren’t ready for a cell phone, but that’s neither here nor there.) I really don’t think this is the type of decision that can have a hard and fast rule…I think each family has to assess their own needs and limitations and decide based on that.

  2. Why does a 5 year old need a cell phone? Even a 9 year old, to me, seems a bit young. When a kid that young is at an age when they should be around grown-ups at all times, there is no need for a cell phone. As far as older kids, I think when a kid is old enough to be without supervision at all times, that’s when a cell phone can be discussed. But I’m with Stray, it depends on the maturity level of the kid – for staying home alone AND a cell phone. And I’m not for internet on a kid’s phone. Why have them totally plugged into their phone so early? They’ll have enough time to be a slave to the phone when they’re adults.

  3. It depends on many factors. I swore I would never give my kid a phone until she was driving. But, at 12 she is on sports teams, has after school activities, and at this point I am so glad I caved in and gave her a simple phone for her 12th birthday. Peace of mind for me, simple as that

  4. @Penny, I think you hit the nail on the head. When is it ok for kids not to be around grown-ups all the time? I have a nine year old son, and I am remembering that when I was nine, I spent a lot of time without supervision: walking to school and back by myself, hanging out in the neighborhood. The idea of giving my son the same level of independence I had at his age scares me, and I don’t plan to any time soon, but one of the first thoughts that occurred to me is that as he does get old enough for more independence, giving him a cell phone sure does seem reassuring. A phone that can send me his location seems pretty nice too.

    I wonder if any cell providers provide a means of limiting what numbers can dial in and out? With that level of control, it seems like there aren’t too many arguments against giving a kid a phone…or are there?

  5. Well, there is actually a cell provider that you can the numbers dialed/texted in or out. The company is called Kajeet. It is meant for kids, but parents can obviously buy their phones as well. We have 3 of their phones and as a mom, I am so glad I found this company for our 14 Year old. You simply log into your account and allow only the numbers you wish them to use. This makes it great because you can adjust the parental controls depending on what YOU want for your kids. 900 numbers are automatically blocked. Another great thing is the price! My daughter has an unlimited texting with 60 minutes talk time for only $14.99 month. This works great for our family because I am a stay at home mom and every cell provider I checked into was very expensive. If you are curious about this company, here is a link where you can check it out and if you order there, you get a discount on all of their phones: .

  6. I recently was asked by my 6 year old if she too could have a cell phone. Inside I was laughing at the idea, but I asked her in a serious tone of why she “needed” a cell phone. Of course, she couldn’t give me a valid reason. I told her that when the right time and place comes, we will think about it, but that I would not get her a cell phone because some other kid has one. When that time does come, and I’m not basing my decision on her age, but more on the need or reason. When she has after school events and needs to be picked up, or has some reason to be in touch with us, or we in touch with her, then that will be the time. Lets face it, times have completely changed since we were kids. When I was 6, I roamed the neighborhood, going along as I pleased from friends house to friends house, without any need of parental supervision. Today, my daughter does not leave the house unless she has a parent with her. I’m petrified to let her go out alone in fear of what could happen to her. Am I overreacting and paranoid? Perhaps, but my fear is real. However, with the changes in our society and technology, I think the standards we lived under as kids in regards to phone usage are outdated. I know I will feel more comfortable when I do let her out on her own if she has a phone to contact me, or vice versa. More than likely, if/when I was to give her a phone, it would be just a basic phone, without the internet bells and whistles, until she can outwit me and give me justification for that as well. For now, my wits are intact (allegedly), and she still has several years ahead of her to work on her sales pitch.

  7. Cell phones are very important to keep in touch with your children. You want to give your children privacy and let them learn life experiences on their own, but you as a parent have the responsibility to protect your children. There are programs available, like the one I use, Mousemail that will forward threatening messages to the parent. That way you are able to give your child independence, but also keep a tab on what your child is getting in to.

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