Should Kids and Tweens Have Cell Phones?

Young boy with a cell phone
Lynda Murtha / Getty Images

Cell phones are popular with kids, especially tweens and teens.

In our family, there are two very different opinions on this issue. Our eight year old wants a cell phone already, which isn't too bad because it distracts her from the fact that she also wants a rabbit, but I don't think that she needs one yet.

At what age are kids ready for their own cell phone? At what age do they "need" one?

Kids and Cell Phones

Unlike other parenting problems, most of us can't really think back to our own childhood to see how our parents handled this issue. After all, cell phones weren't around when most of us were kids.

For many parents, a cell phone just seems like something else that their kids will nag them about getting, such as an iPad, Xbox, Wii, or a new laptop.

Teens and tweens likely see the cell phone issue differently, imagining that getting a cell phone is a step towards independence and a status symbol among their friends.

And while some schools are banning cell phones, so your child may not be able to have or use the phone during the time when he is most likely to be away from home, others let kids have and use them in between classes.

Staying In Touch—Kids Need a Cell Phone

One very good reason to get your kids a cell phone is that it lets you stay in touch with them at almost all times. In addition to being practical, like when a gymnastics lesson or baseball practice lets out early, having a cell phone can help you easily get in touch with your kids in case of an emergency. This extra sense of security and safety that a cell phone provides is probably the key reason that parents should even consider getting their younger children a cell phone.

And in the case of a real tragedy, like a school shooting or terrorist attack, 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 figure out where your teen is at all times.

Most of the younger kids that cell phone companies are targeting, especially tweens between the ages of 8 and 12, shouldn't really be alone anyway. In most situations, your child will be able to use a regular phone or the cell phone of whichever adult is supervising them.

Phones Are Expensive

Cell phones can be expensive. Once you get away from a basic plan, you can be hit with extra charges for going over your minutes, sending text messages, 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.

Too Much Independence

Although the increased independence that a cell phone might offer a child can be good, it can also be a negative thing. Consider that with a cell phone, your child will simply have another way to communicate with the outside world that you will have little supervision over.

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 and "talk" to your child.

And keep in mind that most of today's cell phones offer almost complete internet access and a wide array of apps that are much harder to filter and control as compared to your home computer.

Cell phones may even be a distraction to kids. We all know that they are a distraction for drivers, but one study has also shown that cell phones can be a big distraction for kids crossing the street and could lead to more accidents and injuries.

Cell phones also put your child at risk for getting in trouble for:

  • Sexting - sending or receiving nude pictures or classmates
  • Prank calls - which can get your child in trouble if someone starts pranking other people from your child's phone

Other Benefits

While security, safety, and convenience are typically the main reasons to consider getting your child a cell phone, other weaker arguments might include that a cell phone can:

  • Help your kids keep up with friends who have cell phones, although giving in to peer pressure isn't really a positive thing
  • Teach your kids to be responsible as they learn to care for their phone, avoid losing it, and stay within their cell phone plan's voice, data, and texting minutes

Do Your Kids Have a Cell Phone?

Depending on who you ask, a cell phone for your child might be considered:

  • A necessity
  • A luxury
  • A fad
  • An invasion

Whether or not your child is ready for or needs a cell phone is something a parent will have to decide for themselves. Do make sure that your child can handle the responsibility for a cell phone, though, before you buy one.

Other things to consider when getting your younger child a cell phone, include:

  • A pre-paid plan with a limited number of minutes so that you won't be faced with a lot of extra charges
  • The ability to put strict limits on what the phone can do, including being able to turn off web access and text messaging. Some phones also let you limit who can call the phone and who your child can call using the cell phone.
  • Only giving the phone to your child when he really needs it, like during a trip to the mall or other time when he might not be near a regular phone
  • Get one with a GPS tracker so that you can easily find your child when you need to.
  • Have a discussion of some of the more serious cell phone issues, such as the dangers of driving while talking on a cell phone, cyberbullying, cell phone etiquette, and following rules for cell phone use at school

Currently, the ideal phone for younger kids that includes many of these guidelines is from FiLIP 2. A watch (wearable phone), it can call and get short texts from five trusted numbers that you program and includes location services. It even has an emergency call button and SafeZones, so you know where your child is. And because your child wears it, they are less likely to lose it.

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  • Effect of Cell Phone Distraction on Pediatric Pedestrian Injury Risk. Despina Stavrinos, Katherine W. Byington, and David C. Schwebel Pediatrics 2009; 123: e179-e185.