Should grade-schoolers and pre-teens have cellphones? If so, what privileges should be allowed? There are no clear-cut answers on when and how to introduce children to new technologies like cellphones (and don’t even get us started on sites like Facebook). But based on the diverse opinions we’ve seen on Circle of Moms, here are three major factors to consider when deciding whether to give your child a cellphone.
1. Is it a Need or a Want?
Of course children want cellphones—they see mobiles everywhere, and they seem like really fun toys. But while a child's desire for a phone is the primary purchase reason for some parents, many others see cellphones as a safety precaution that provides welcome peace of mind.
For example, Alison T.’s 9-year-old son uses his cellphone when he has to walk home alone: “He calls me when he gets off the bus if no-one is there to meet him, and we talk while he is walking home until he gets in the house so I know he is safe.” Similarly, Kareena C. decided a cellphone made sense for her 7-year-old son: “As he is really sensible and we live in a rural area, he was allowed to play down at the park on his own and we wanted him to be able to contact us if he needed to. He calls us every time he wants to call on a friend etc. so we always know where he is.”
Other moms make the case that single parents, separated parents, and families with both parents working outside the home all might find it convenient and reassuring for their young child to have a cellphone.
2. Setting Boundaries
Whether your child is 6 or 16, once you decide to purchase her a cellphone, Circle of Moms members recommend establishing boundaries. Decide where the phone can be taken, what numbers can be called, and whether texting, photos and games are allowed. Karen T. is one of many moms who established an emergencies-only policy: “My daughter has one but she is only allowed to use it when she is going to friends and we have restrictions on the numbers she can call on it and we also bought a very basic handset which is just a phone, no text or camera etc...it is really only for her to use in emergencies.” Kristi D. shared a similar policy: “My 8 y.o. son got a phone last year for his birthday. He only gets it when he goes to his dad's house, or we go to theme parks or other crowd-filled areas. He can take pictures with it, but that's it. The phone is locked so he can only call and receive calls from the numbers we've entered in.”
3. Teaching Responsibility
Circle of Moms members like Margarita M. emphasize that a child needs to be taught "the significance of the responsibility that comes with having a cell phone.” Some moms suggest having a child contribute allowance toward the phones fees; others like Kesha E. suggest gradually increasing priviledges as a child proves she is responsible: “Try making it a reward system. If she shows responsibility and you set some boundaries such as the phone can only be used on weekends and as she matures and shows responsibility she can earn more usage. By the time she is 9 or 10 maybe she could earn full usage.”
Ultimately, you may conclude, as Latissa S. did, that your child simply isn't ready: “My 11 year old wants one too. If she was responsible enough I would say yes but my child loses stuff a lot and I am not paying for a new one everytime it’s gone. Each child is different and you know if your child can handle the responsibility.”
At what age will you (or did you) give your child a cellphone? What restrictions, if any, did you place on its use?