Making Sense

Cell Phone Tips

What's the right age for a cell phone? What are the right rules to set? Get the latest tips and advice.
Caroline Knorr Parenting Editor | Mom of one Categories: Cell phone parenting
Parenting Editor | Mom of one

Cell phones aren’t just for talking anymore

You rarely see young people these days without a cell phone in their hands. But they’re probably not talking on it. More likely, they’re texting, surfing the Web, updating their Facebook pages, playing games, downloading apps, playing with ring tones, taking pictures, recording video, and more.

When you hand your children cell phones, you’re giving them powerful communications and media production tools. They can create text, images, and videos that can be widely distributed and uploaded to Web sites instantly. If you think your kids’ technological savvy is greater than their ability to use it wisely, pay attention to the gap. We're still the parents. And it's our job to say, “No, not yet.”

Parents have to teach responsible cell phone use

Cell phones give kids access to a world that’s both portable and private. Unlike when they talk on the phone at home, with a cell phone you’re not there to monitor what they’re saying or sending, or whom they’re talking to.

Unfortunately, this access means that kids can use these powerful communication tools irresponsibly. They may text when they should be paying attention to what’s going on around them. They may engage in sexting, by sending or receiving inappropriate pictures or messages. Embarrassing texts, photos, and videos captured on phones can be sent instantly or uploaded easily to Web sites. This form of cyberbullying can happen swiftly and anonymously.

A few other things to be aware of: Texting has also led to cheating in class, as kids noiselessly text answers to one another. Your children may text late into the night because you won’t hear them. Cell phones can distract kids from what’s going on around them and can be expensive. Mobile phones, and the monthly plans that support texting and Web access, can cost a small fortune.

What’s the right age for your child to have a cell phone?

Cell phones have become a must-have for kids, and the ways kids use them are not always obvious to parents. If you answer “yes” to most of the following questions, it may be time to get a cell phone for your children.

  • Are your kids pretty independent?
  • Do your children need to be in touch for safety reasons?
  • Would having easy access to friends benefit them for social reasons?
  • Do you think they’ll use a cell phone responsibly – for example, not texting during class or disturbing others with their phone conversations?
  • Can they adhere to limits you set for minutes talked and apps downloaded?
  • Will they use the text, photo, and video functions responsibly and not to embarrass or harass others?

Parent tips for elementary school kids

  • Ask yourself: Do they really need a phone? If you decide that they do, ask yourself what kind of phone they need. For very young children, there are phones that you can program with just a few important phone numbers. For older elementary school kids, you might want to choose a phone that allows for calls but not texting or instant messaging (IM).
  • Make sure young kids understand the rules. If your kids have phones, make sure you have programmed everyone’s numbers into the phones so that the phones display the names of who is calling. Tell your kids not to answer calls from numbers they don’t know. Make rules for time spent talking, what phones are used for, and when the phones should be off. You may want to check the time of calls to make sure they are made within your established boundaries.

Parent tips for preteens

  • Make sure you have the right plan for calls or texts. Phone plans range in minutes and texts allowed. If you allow your preteens to text, get a plan with unlimited texting or you’ll face huge bills.
  • Explain that cell phone are expensive and that “extras” cost money. You may be billed for ring tones, sports updates, or Web access.
  • Work out guidelines for use with your kids. No phones in class, phones turned off at night, and no phones at the dinner table are a few common ones.
  • Make sure your kids are using phones appropriately. That means no rude or sexy texts, no embarrassing photos or videos. Monitoring messages sent and received is not a terrible idea (although your children will probably think it is).
  • Talk about cyberbullying. Tell your kids to come to you if anything like that happens.
  • Tell your children that sexual talk of any kind is not allowed. Kids often jokingly use sexual language and sexually aggressive speech. Yet, on a cell phone, a message can be instantly forwarded out of context to anyone, and kids can get into all kinds of trouble.
  • Establish real consequences for violations of your rules. Like taking away the phones for a week!

Parent tips for teens

  • No texting or talking while driving. Never. Distracted driving is how kids get into traffic accidents – the #1 killer of teens. It’s also illegal in a growing number of states.
  • Make sure they pick up your call. Many teens treat incoming calls from Mom and Dad as a nuisance. As long as you are paying the bills, make a rule: They have to answer when you call — unless they’re behind the wheel.
  • Have them review each month’s bill. Let them see precisely how many minutes they are spending on the phone or texting.
  • Make sure you anticipate increased phone use. By the time your children get to high school, the phone is ringing all the time. Make sure their phone plan allows for this extra time, and establish limits so they get a break from being “always on.”
  • Draw boundaries. No phones at the dinner table. In the car. In a restaurant. Remind your teens that they have only a couple of years left at home to have annoying conversations with you face to face!

About Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for... Read more

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Comments (23)

It was nice for my age since my parent's just divorced, and I was going to his house in Akron every other weekend,mom was back to work, and it was perfect if i needed to call them if i needed a ride since I couldn't drive since I had epilepsy. But anyway as I got older the texting and the cell phones updated.
I think as parents we all have the same concerns with cell phone protection for our children. I found this app to be very helpful since it allows you to have 24/7 location tracker, danger alert system, monitoring photo gallery, Web history monitoring App usage monitoring, texting keyword alerts, phonebook monitoring, Call and texting logs. Here is the link http://tinyurl.com/Cell-Phone-Parental-Control
straight talk cell phones have become a must-have for kids, and the ways kids use them are not always obvious to parents. If you answer “yes” to most of the following questions, it may be time to get a cell phone for your children. Are your kids pretty independent? Do your children need to be in touch for safety reasons? Would having easy access to friends benefit them for social reasons? Do you think they’ll use a cell phone responsibly – for example, not texting during class or disturbing others with their phone conversations? Can they adhere to limits you set for minutes talked and apps downloaded? Will they use the text, photo, and video functions responsibly and not to embarrass or harass others? I think these very good!
I am an 11-yearold girl. I got my first phone an Iphone4 in august. I love it! I use it to communicate with my mom after school, like what time to get me. I also get to facetime all my family who lives far away. I use it to connect with my friends.
My mom got me my very first cell phone when I was 16 and it was very basic. No camera, no internet, not even texting or wall paper. It was nice for my age since my parent's just divorced, and I was going to his house in Akron every other weekend,mom was back to work, and it was perfect if i needed to call them if i needed a ride since I couldn't drive since I had epilepsy. But anyway as I got older the texting and the phones updated. I had a razer which I loved and I had one with keyboard because I Do perfer to text since I Don't like to talk on the phone often. But anyway I am 25 and just got my first iphone in October. I must admit I like the idea of the i pod touch with the texting feature for those parent's who decide the kids aren't ready for a phone yet, and if they are I suggest you start with a basic phone and gradually update to a smartphone in a couple years but of course every family is different so i wish the parent's luck. :)
This is for Parents: If your child want a phone, give them a phone with blocking "strangers, inappropriate stuff & Texting" The good one is Kajeet! PS: Make some "RULES" In her/his Notebook. Hope this WORKS!!!
I got a cell phone when I was 8. My mom worked untill 11 o'clock at night in a shady town an hour from home. My dad sometimes worked, and if he did i stayed with my grandparents. I needed one. It was a 30$ flip phone with calling and texting, no internet. I used it until I was 10 (it finally broke). I don't have one right now, but I'm getting one soon, because I spend a lot of time at theatre rehearsals. My uncle's there, but my parents still think a cell is a good idea. My parents are also divorced and I switch houses every three days, so another reason I'm getting one is so I can keep in touch. I think the ideal age is 11 or 12, except you have a different situation.
I admit, I ended up getting my cell phone (a Motorola RAZR) when I was twelve. My dad was at work for most of the day, and my mom was out of the house taking my youngest sister to therapy sessions whenever I came home from school. The cell phone provided me a way to get in contact with my mom if something should arise after school, such as my bus breaking down (which happened to me last year), me having to stay at school after classes, or the rare emergencies. Now, at seventeen, I still use that same cell phone I received when I was twelve, and it still works like new and has less than 200 minutes and probably less than 500 texts on it. I do not see how people younger than me can become addicted to cell phones like the way they are now, but I am still a person who prefers face-to-face contact than talking over a phone or sending innumerable useless messages to one another.
I would probably say that a child should have a cell phone at age 11-12, or whenever they go to high school. It may seem unfair to them now, but as they get older they'll realise that their parents made the correct decision. My parents got me a basic flip phone at 11 then upgraded it to a basic touch phone at 12. Unless the child is in a very special situation (divorced parents/abused) then they don't need one until that age.
im 12 and have a blackberry it comes in handy often if i foget my keys i can call my parents and if i forget my school books of homework they can drop it of for my and some times my parents make me have it on my for safty. im in year 7 almost year 8 and i find that its come in handy a lot so maybe just before they start highschool
Most kids these days get cell phones by the time they're in middle school. They need a cell phone to communicate with parents. Most parents are overprotective when it comes to this cell phone usage and make their kids check in every hour. When I was a kid, I used to play outside for hours without a cell phone. How would parents of survived back then without cell phones? I think it all depends on the parent when they want their child to be responsible for a cell phone, but they also need to set rules on cell phone usage. If they break their cell phone, they cannot get a new one. They need to get cell phone repair at www.allmobilematters.com instead since it's cheaper and kids need to learn from their mistakes.
When they need a cell phone get them one! I have cousin who had a cell phone when she was 6 and a phone in her room... She NEEDED that phone. Her father wasn't the nicest man, if you catch my drift. Anyway teen don't care about much other than themselves... It's just how it works when your a kid so trying to get them to see the bigger picture will probably drive them crazy and you'll look like the bad guy.
I got a tracphone when I was 11, but I only made calls with it and the phone really that important. When I was older I got a contract phone and only called Mom and my friends, I didn't get texting until I was 15 and that was only because Mom was starting to use texting. If she never found texting helpful, than she never would have gotten us an unlimited plan.
When I was six, my parents used to stay at work until seven. Sometimes I woke up and my dad was at work. On the weekend they were there, but on weekdays I could barely communicate with them. So, my dad got me a ‘special’ cell phone. Sort of like Greg Heffley’s first phone. I could only call, and text. This was just for if the nanny (they are common where I used to live. It can nothing to do with money) caused us any problems, or if there was an emergency. Now, age 11, I have an iPhone 4. Sad thing is, I hate texting. I think it’s a nuisance. The keys are impossible, and spell check is crazy.
I think that kids 8 and up should have sell phones becase all of my friends do so it is not far and u should get them the most popular phone so they will not just ask radomliy say can u have a new phone then that is a waste of money of think im right reply to me and say yes and something if u want or if u dont then say no and something i dont care what u say but pplzzz replyyyy thanks for reading this and hope that u reply plzz................
See I got my phone when I was ten, but that was because my mom was always working so if their was an emergency, I had a way to contact her. Though I think the right age is once your kid starts to be in a lot of activities. Then you have a way to contact her so you know where she is, and if she's safe!
Well if your kid wants a cell, then get them a I-Pod touch. You can download a texting-app and you need wi-fi for it. A kid should have a cell at about 11 or 12
I completely agree with thereview! "Hey mom, can I have a 50$ cell phone?" "No my dear son, but you can have a 250$ Ipod touch!" Perfect idea!=(