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When Should Kids Own a Cell Phone?

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I have no plans of allowing my son to have a cell phone until he’s old enough to drive. I just don’t. Part of my aversion toward children, tweens and young teens carrying cell phones stems from my years of teaching and the fact that I would really like to avoid adding another distraction to my child’s academic life. I also worry about the financial aspect of cell phone usage. Small children are lacking in both an income and an understanding that easy-to-make phone calls and text messages cost money.

Still, I know that things may change in the next few years, and it’s certainly possible that I will want to give my peanut a cell phone sometime before 2026. So here are some things to consider as you are fielding your child’s daily pleas for a cell phone:

Want vs. Need

I risk dating myself by saying this, but no one needed a cell phone when I was growing up. However, always having some change on me meant that I could make a call from a payphone (remember those?) if ever I needed to reach my parents. If your child is begging you for a cell phone, think hard about whether or not this is really a necessity. If your child carpools to school and is generally in the presence of an adult all day, a cell phone is not necessary for anything other than texting and having a social life. (And of course, your child probably considers those necessary for survival).

If your child walks to and from school or sometimes needs to wait for a ride home from an after school activity, having a means of calling home will give you both a sense of security. (It is important to note, however, that keeping your child constantly connected through cell phones doesn’t give her an opportunity to learn self-reliance. This is one of the major arguments used by experts who don’t approve of kids using cell phones.)

Know Your Plan

Ask any parent about the first bill they received after putting their child on the mobile plan, and you’ll likely hear a horror story of the several-hundred dollar cell phone bill. If you are going to add your child to your cell phone plan, it pays to do your homework ahead of time. How much calling and texting (because, believe me, they will be texting) is included in the basic plan, and how much it’ll cost if your child blows pass the pre-set limits? How much would it cost to go to an unlimited plan? When is peak usage?

Having the answers to all of these questions can help you to avoid a nasty surprise at the end of the month.

Know Your Child

You know your kid better than anyone else, so you are in a unique position to decide if he is ready for the responsibility of a cell phone. Does he have any impulse control, or will he compulsively check for messages? Will he respect your limits or find ways around them?

When it comes to cell phones, until your child is 18 and purchasing a plan for himself, you are financially responsible for his cell usage. If you shudder at the thought of handing over your credit card to your child, then it might not make sense to add your son or daughter to your current cell phone plan.

Pre-Paid Alternatives

If you don’t feel that your child is ready for the responsibility of a regular cell phone, consider buying a pre-paid phone for her. These phones stop working once they reach the usage limit, but they can be reloaded with more minutes. Some can even be programmed to only make calls to Mom and Dad or 911. This is a great solution for parents of smaller children or teenagers who still need to prove their responsibility.

Providing your child with a cell phone is a big step, and it’s probably a good idea to ask him to help contribute to the cost of its use. Learning now how to be responsible with a cell phone will give your child a leg up once he’s out on his own.

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