Should Kids and Tweens Have Cell Phones?

Young boy with a cell phone
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Cell phones are popular with kids, especially tweens and teens. But many parents are not sure when it is appropriate for kids to have a phone. Unlike other parenting problems, most of us can't think back to our own childhood to see how our parents handled this issue.

For many parents, a cell phone seems like something else that kids nag them about getting, such as an iPad, Xbox, Wii, or a new laptop. Teens and tweens likely see the cell phone issue differently. For them, getting a cell phone is a step towards independence. It is also often a status symbol among their friends.

Some schools ban cell phones, so your child may not be able to have or use the phone during the time when they are most likely to be away from home. Other schools let kids have and use phones in between classes.

Arguments for Cell Phones for Kids

One very good reason to get your child a phone is that it lets you stay in touch with them at almost all times. Your child can let you know that a gymnastics lesson or baseball practice has finished early, for example.

When your child has a phone, you can easily get in touch with them in case of an emergency. This extra sense of security and safety is probably the only reason that parents should even consider getting a younger children a cell phone. In the case of a real tragedy, like a school shooting, a cell phone can be your only lifeline to your kids.

A cell phone can also be an important way to keep in touch with your older teen, especially if they are driving. A phone with GPS tracking can help you know where your teen is at all times.

Most younger kids, especially tweens between the ages of 8 and 12, shouldn't really be alone. In most situations where your child would need to reach you, they will be able to use a landline or the cell phone of an adult who is supervising them.

While security, safety, and convenience are the main reasons to consider getting your child a cell phone, other benefits might include:

  • Keeping your child from being left out when many of their friends have cell phones (although giving in to peer pressure isn't really a positive)
  • Teaching your child responsibility as they learn to care for their phone, avoid losing it, and stay within their cell phone plan's voice, data, and texting minutes

Arguments Against Cell Phones for Kids

There are many reasons to hold off on giving your child a cell phone, especially during the tween years.

Cost

Cell phones can be expensive. You can be hit with extra charges for going over your time or data limits, buying apps and music, and using the internet. And that doesn't include the cost of a replacement phone if your kids lose their phone.

Broader Internet Access

Although the increased independence that a cell phone might offer a child can be good, it can also be a negative. With a cell phone, your child will have another way to communicate with the outside world that you will have little supervision over. Most cell phones offer almost complete access to the Internet and a wide array of apps that are much harder to filter and control than your home computer.

A cell phone also gives the outside world another way to communicate with your child. A sex offender could hide behind the anonymity of text messaging and social media apps to talk with and groom your child.

Distraction

Cell phones may be a distraction to kids. We all know that they are a distraction for drivers, but cell phones can also be a big distraction for kids crossing the street on foot, leading to more accidents and injuries.

Behavior Problems

Cell phones also put your child at risk for getting in trouble for sending, posting, or receiving inappropriate photos. Or a child might make prank calls, or be blamed for them if a classmate takes their phone and uses it to make inappropriate calls.

Making the Decision

Whether or not your child is ready for or needs a cell phone is something you will have to decide for yourself. Do make sure that your child can handle the responsibility for a cell phone before you buy one. When getting your younger child a cell phone, consider putting some limits in place. For example:

  • Purchase a pre-paid plan with a limited number of minutes so that you won't be faced with a lot of extra charges.
  • Look for a phone that allows strict limits, including being able to turn off web access and text messaging. Some phones also allow you to restrict both incoming and outgoing calls to certain numbers.
  • Give the phone to your child only on certain occasions, such as when they might not be near another phone
  • Download a GPS tracker app onto the phone, or require your child to share their location, so that you can easily find them when you need to.
  • Discuss serious cell phone issues, such as cyberbullying, the dangers of distracted driving, cell phone etiquette, and school rules for cell phone use.

A phone for younger kids that includes many of these features is from FiLIP 2. It's a watch (wearable phone) that can call and get short texts from five trusted numbers. It includes location services and has an emergency call button. And because your child wears it, they are less likely to lose it.

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  1. Stavrinos D, Byington KW, Schwebel DC. Effect of cell phone distraction on pediatric pedestrian injury risk. Pediatrics. 2009;123(2):e179-85. doi:10.1542/peds.2008-1382