What is the Appropriate Age for Cell Phones?

Do you remember when phones actually plugged into the wall? When I was growing up, our phone was in the kitchen and no one had private conversations in our house. I remember that we would stretch the phone cord as far as it would go in order to get a little more privacy. I also remember the days before answering machines. Boy have things changed with cell phones in the mix!

Fast forward 30 or 40 years and we can talk to anyone anytime anywhere … even in the car! Who would have guessed? Cell phones allow a lot more flexibility and they also come with a tether. We depend on them so much that it’s hard to get away from them sometimes. The question then becomes, “When does my child get one?”

I look at three basic things:

  • Necessity/safety. If your child is away from home frequently and in need of communication during that time, a cell phone is definitely a consideration. Do you want them having to rely on other people or going into a store or office every time they need to reach you?
  • Cost. Is this a necessary additional monthly expense and can you afford it?
  • Maturity.

1. What are the chances of your child losing the cell phone? Is your child showing responsibility with other things (tablet, computer, wallet, money, room, chores, etc.)? You want to reduce the chance of replacing lost or damaged phones.

2.  Is your child currently doing a good job honoring your wishes with other devices? Do you want another device to manage or are they pretty good with listening when you say no more screen time? If your child responds well on other devices, your chances are better that they will also listen and respect your boundaries with a cell phone. If they aren’t good with following your instructions already, you will probably be taking on a power struggle and conflict that you may regret later.

As you can see, we haven’t talked at all about specific ages. I don’t think it is as much about age or grade level as it is about practicality and maturity. It’s a family decision that depends on needs and readiness. Every child is different and each family’s circumstances will be different.

I suggest when your child brings up the topic of cell phones that you discuss the following with them: necessity, safety, cost and maturity (readiness). It comes down to communicating with your child, listening, having compassion for their perspective (they will be disappointed if you say no, especially if all of their friends have one), and letting them know what the standards are. Keep an open mind. In reality, everyone will end up with a cell phone. The timing is up to you. Remember a main focus in healthy parenting is connection and trust. How do you create that in your conversation, whether they get a cell phone or not? For additional ideas or specific support, take advantage of a free 15-minute phone consultation with me. You can schedule your appointment by sending an email or calling 951-240-1407 today!

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