Because middle school marks so many beginnings, I am often asked “What is the right age to let my child fill-in-the-blank?” From shaving to Instagram, boy-girl parties to cell phones, there are a lot of firsts flying at parents of tweens. Let’s tackle one today. What is the right age to let your child own a cell phone?
Cell phones, like most of your parenting choices, should be dictated by your child’s maturity level. Cell phones can be expensive. The first thing I would consider when making this decision is will my child lose a phone within a week? (Every child will lose a phone at some point.) If you think your child can hang onto a phone for at least six months, that’s a reasonable start. Start out with the cheapest phone you can find to test the waters.
On the subject of paying for the phone, I recommend you pay for your child’s first phone because then ownership is yours and you may govern its usage as you see fit. If your child pays for the phone, you open yourself up to arguments about ownership and property rights. There is nothing less fun than arguing with a child who lacks logic and evidence but not energy!
I know, you still want an age.
If you don’t think you’ll be throwing your money down the drain, consider entering 6th grade a very reasonable time for cell phone ownership.
As a mom of two free-range kids aged 10 and 12, I really love being able to reach my kids when I need them. Knowing they have cell phones give me comfort in letting them bike to school or wander the neighborhood. If you’re not likely to give your kids that kind of range, consider these other benefits to having a cell in middle school:
- The start and end time to sports practice or after school activities is often flexible. It’s nice being in touch when plans shift.
- Kids start wanting to make social plans by themselves. One less thing for me to do? Awesome.
- Phones are a great tool to teach self-reliance and problem solving (“Your ride didn’t show up and I’m at work. Who are you gonna call?”), money management (lots of kids pay for the added phone line) and confidence/etiquette (“Can you please call Aunt Mary and ask what we can bring to the party?”)
Common concerns I hear about letting kids have cell phones range from “It opens up a terrifying new world of cyberbullying” to “It’s not a necessity and I don’t want to raise over-indulged kids” to “I don’t want to raise kids who never look up from screens.” All of these are fair and reasonable concerns. Not allowing cell phones; however, may not be a fair and reasonable solution.
As the parent, you should put restrictions on cell phone usage to address your concerns. Here are some that I like:
- If there is a password on the phone, I must always know it. If you change the password and don’t tell me, there will be a consequence.
- I may look at your texts at any time. Only text things you are ok with me seeing. I will respect your privacy and only discuss a text with you if I have safety or moral concerns.
- Your cell phone cannot be in your room after 8:00 at night. It must be recharging in the kitchen at that time.
- This is new to us both and we’re both learning. I can change the family rules around cell phone use as needed to address new situations as they arise.
Creating and modifying rules around etiquette and safety are an effective way of raising kids who are responsible, thoughtful communicators in this technical age. Are you feeling cell phone ready?