When Should I Get My Kid a Phone?

When I speak to groups of parents about cyber safety and social networks I always get asked: “When should I get my kid a phone?”Usually, the parent tells me their child is asking for a phone because everyone in their class has one. Just because everyone in you child’s class has a phone is not a justifiable reason, by itself, to get a phone. There are several questions you, as the parent, should be asking before making the mobile phone plunge for your child.

National Consumers League has provided a list of helpful questions for families to use when deciding whether to purchase a child a cell phone. I have provided the questions below with the Cyber Safety Cop’s (CSC) take:

  1. Why does your child need a cell phone? (CSC: Can you as the parent see any added benefit for you in your child having a phone? Do you need to reach them in situations where they are away from a landline?)
  2. Will the phone be used primarily to stay in touch with parents and for emergency use? Or will your child be using the phone for entertainment or to communicate with friends? (CSC: Is this for safety, or is this a toy? Should you be looking for a phone or plan that allows you to block all calls except a select few?)
  3. How much do you want to spend per month on service? (CSC: Nearly a quarter of households spend more than they anticipated on teen cell phone expenses. Can you get into a plan that will cap usage, like a pre-paid phone?)
  4. How much do you want to spend on the initial purchase of the cell phone itself? (CSC: Are you getting a basic $10 flip phone from Target, or are you getting a $150 plus smart phone? What if the phone gets lost or damaged?)
  5. Is your tween mature enough to use the phone responsibly and avoid viewing or sending inappropriate content? (CSC: You know your child. Do you have a plan to monitor what they are doing on their phone?)
  6. What is your tween’s school’s policy on cell phones in school? (CSC: Is your child allowed to have a phone with them at school? What are the consequences if they misuse it at school?)
  7. Does your tween have a habit of losing things or can he or she handle the responsibility of caring for a phone? (CSC: Has your child demonstrated that they can successfully kept track of valuable items?)

I’m a firm believer in “training wheels.” If you decide to get your child a phone, I suggest starting with a basic flip phone with no Internet access. Tell your child that they must treat this phone like it is a million bucks. They must honor the boundaries that you put in place, and take good physical care of it, you will consider giving them a smart phone down the line.

For information on getting your kid an iPhone, see my earlier 3-part blog posts on that subject.

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About the Author

Clayton Cranford
Clayton Cranford is a retired Sergeant from Orange County Sheriff's Department in California and owner of Total Safety Solutions LLC. Clayton is one of the nation’s leading law enforcement educators on social media, child safety, and behavioral threat assessments. Clayton is the author of the definitive book on cyber safety for families, “Parenting in the Digital World.” Clayton has more than 20 years of teaching experience and was awarded the 2015 National Bullying Prevention Award from the School Safety Advocacy Council, and the 2015 American Legion Medal of Merit. Clayton was a member of the County's Behavioral Threat Assessment Team, Crisis Negotiation Team, School Resource Officer program, and Juvenile Bureau.