One of the questions I’m often asked is “At what age should I buy my child a cell phone?” There’s no magic age at which kids need a cellphone. The decision is one that requires conversation and careful consideration because every family is different.
Even though mobile phones are the #1 form of communication for teens* and kids are getting cell phones at younger ages than ever before (31% of 8-10 year olds have cell phones*), there’s no reason why you have to cave to pressure to keep up with the Joneses of the playground set. When the topic comes up, start by having a frank discussion with your child about why they think they need a cell phone. Even though they may be pretty convincing in their reasons, consider a variety of factors before you go shopping for their first phone.
What factors should you consider when your kids ask about getting their first cell phone? AT&T Mobile Safety provides these following recommendations on when and why to give mobile phones to kids:
- Look at past behavior. Do you feel like your child responsibly towards privileges such as an expensive toy or lending a hand with a family pet? Kids need to demonstrate a pattern of responsible behavior before getting an expensive mobile phone.
- Consider why your children “need” a mobile phone. Do they want a phone for safety or social reasons? If they need a phone to get in touch with you because of a variety of after school activities, a phone with a limiting calling plan that can be programmed with important numbers will suffice. Older children may need to receive and accept calls. Look for a plan that limits the number of minutes but doesn’t automatically include texting, instant messaging, or data. These are features that can be added on when your child demonstrates responsible use.
- Consider the costs. While cell phone carriers may entice you with offers of free phones, plans and features differ dramatically. Ensure that the expense of adding a mobile phone to your family’s mobile plan fits into your household.
If you’re ready to put a mobile phone into your child’s hands, then there are certain lessons that need to go along with it.
- Introduce a new kind of allowance. Cell phones come with limits when it comes to minutes, texts, and apps. If they stay within budget with their allowance and budget accordingly, cell phone minutes, texts, and apps are a new currency that they will probably do just fine with as long as they’re given proper guidance.
- Teach modern etiquette lessons. Digital devices come with their own set of rules. Model the kind of behavior you expect and make sure that your child knows the rules about cell phones at school, when it is and isn’t appropriate to text, how to take a call without disturbing others, and that cell phones should never be a tool to harass others whether through calls, texts, photos, or video.
*Statistics courtesy of Pew, 2010 and Kaiser, 2010 as shared through AT&T Mobile Safety’s Mobile Phones and Your Kids.
I was compensated to share the AT&T Family Safety Program through a series of Safety School events for my community. This post was inspired by a conversation I had with a mom who was going to spend the weekend shopping for a phone for her daughter who was just entering middle school. All opinions are my own. Images courtesy of AT&T.