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What's the Right Age to Get Kids a Cellphone?

Text: Q&A

The right age to give kids their first cellphone is really up to you. Age isn't as important as your kid's maturity level, ability to follow rules at home and school, and sense of responsibility as well as your own family's needs.

Getting your kid their first phone is a very personal and individual decision, but lots of kids start asking for (and receiving) them as early as elementary school. That kind of peer pressure makes it tougher for parents who want to hold off.

When you hand your children a cellphone, you're giving them a powerful tool for communication and media production. They can create text, images, and videos that can be uploaded to websites instantly and widely distributed. Parents and caregivers need to consider whether their kids are ready to use a phone responsibly and respectfully.

If you think your kids' tech skills are greater than their ability to use it wisely, pay attention to that gap. You may need to say, "No, not yet."

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do your kids show a sense of responsibility, such as letting you know when they leave the house? Do they show up when they say they will?

  • Do your kids tend to lose things, such as backpacks or homework folders? If so, expect they might lose a phone, too.

  • Do your kids 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 cellphone responsibly -- for example, not texting during class or disturbing others with their phone conversations?

  • Can they stick to limits you set for when, where, and how long they can use the phone?

  • Will they use text, photo, and video functions responsibly and not to embarrass or harass others?

Adding a kid to your service plan can get expensive. For your kids' first phone, consider these options:

  • A prepaid phone that doesn't lock you into a long-term contract.

  • A "feature" phone with large icons and a limited range of functions, such as the Nokia 225.

  • A flip phone, like the Jitterbug Flip, which is designed for seniors but great for kids too because it has large numbers and GPS tracking.

  • Low-cost, prepaid carriers, such as Boost, Mint, Twigby, and Tello.

Common Sense Media

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