just a mom figuring it out one day at a time

When Is It Appropriate to Give Your Child a Cell Phone?

I don’t know that we really wanted to do it. After all, we didn’t have cell phones when we were younger and we turned out just fine.  But let’s face it; times are different than they were back then. Our kids are growing up digitally native and most have cell phones.

But, when is it appropriate to give your child a cell phone?

From the time our son and daughter were very little we monitored their electronics.  I remember hearing about kids getting carpel tunnel syndrome because they played too many video games.  Or watching my children when they played games or watched television—it was as if the body snatchers took my vibrant, engaging kids and replaced them with zombies.

I used to tell them that too much screen time sucked the imaginations from their brains.

I still feel that way.

Frankly, the use of too many electronics scares me. I’ve read and researched how our children’s brains, and ours, are being rewired based on the amount of electronics use, so the thought of giving my child a cell phone scared me.  But that wasn’t the only reason.

I worried about the content that might accessed, what might be sent to my kids and, heaven forbid, the possibility that they might be bullied—because I know people whose children have been bullied and harassed via text messages and social media and have heard about the devastating effect this has had on their children.

Then CJ approached 12 and we once again circled back to this debate.

As a parent, you want to protect your children from the evils of the world or being negatively impacted by anything. While cell phones hold a lot of positives, giving our son a phone was also opening up a whole new world fraught with potential issues.

At first I wanted to wait another year, but then came the realization that technology, and cell phones, are a part of life. It’s a part of life, like many more that will come, where we need to trust that we have given him the right tools to make good decisions. Although it isn’t as significant as handing your child the keys to the car, it does carry with it a certain level of responsibility.

So the question then became, not necessarily what age is appropriate, but whether or not:

(a)    Had CJ reached a level where he would responsibly use a cell phone?

and

(b) Did he need one?

The answer to those questions was yes, but I didn’t want to just hand him a phone and minimize the responsibility it carried.

A few years ago, I remembered reading about a cell phone contract.  I liked the concept that it held and thought it made a lot of sense, so I devised one of our own based on several that I found across the internet, but used one on Josh Shipp’s site primarily as the basis for the one I created:

******

Congratulations! You have received your first cell phone.  This cell phone is not a right, but a privilege.  Given your age, your continued honesty and overall responsibility, we feel that you are now ready to have your own phone.  However, this privilege comes with responsibilities.

By reading the guidelines and signing below, you are agreeing to accept the responsibilities as a cell phone holder.

  1. This phone is not mine and actually belongs to my parents.  It is mine to use and therefore everything on my phone is allowed to be viewed by my parents.
  2. All applications (apps) will be approved by my parents. Anything inappropriate will be deleted immediately.
  3. My parents will have access to all of my passwords and all information and data (texts, pictures etc) on my phone.
  4. The contacts contained in my phone will be people that I know and that my parents know.  I will not accept and store contact information from people that I don’t know.
  5. Should my parents or supervising adult call, I will pick up the phone or respond immediately to texts received.  If I miss a call from them I will return it as soon as possible.
  6. My phone will be given to my parents each night before bed and stored on a charger in their room. The exception to this is if I am out of the house sleeping elsewhere.
  7. I will not take, or send inappropriate photos or data.
  8. I will not visit inappropriate websites.
  9. I will not send inappropriate text messages.
  10. My data is available for my parents to see. I will not delete text messages, only my parents will delete the messages when they feel appropriate.
  11. In the event that I receive inappropriate text messages, photos or other data, I will immediately show my parents.
  12. In the event that I receive messages or phone calls from people that I do not know, I will alert my parents.
  13. I understand that my behavior on the phone is an extension of me. Therefore I would not do anything on the phone that I would not do in front of my parents or in public. It is understood that my communication on my phone could impact my future if handled poorly.
  14. I will begin and end each conversation on the phone with polite phone manners.
  15. I will not text at the dinner table, at other social functions or in public where it would be inappropriate.
  16. I will not text communication which is better said in person.
  17. I will continue to display respect for others and will not use the phone in negative and harmful ways.
  18. When old enough, I won’t text and drive.
  19. Any loss, breakage or damage of the phone will be reported to my parents ASAP.
  20. I will not turn the hotspot feature on unless I have permission.
  21. I will use wifi wherever possible.

I understand that this phone is given to me on loan and is not mine. If I violate the above agreement, I understand that the phone can be taken away. I have read the following document and agree to the above terms.

******

It’s my hope that with some ground rules in place, we will be able to guide our son towards responsible use of what is essentially a tool.

We are just beginning this process and I would love to hear from other parents about their experiences! Have you given your child a cell phone and if so, at what age did you? What positives or negatives have you experienced?

64 Responses to “When Is It Appropriate to Give Your Child a Cell Phone?”

  1. I love the contract idea! My boys were 16 before they received a cell phone. It was very very hard to make them wait, but they survived!

  2. Pamela says:

    I like the idea of waiting until 16 to get a phone. I didn’t have phones when I was a teen but I did have to wait until 16 to wear makeup. I know it’s not the same thing but as DeDe says, it’s possible to wait until 16 for something you want. Also, I was shocked to hear that phones significantly less security filters than a computer. IE youth can access p*rn more easily on smart phones and young boys are getting drawn into that world quickly. Once you hand over a phone I think a talk about this topic has to happen too.

    • cnbrockett says:

      We really debated on the subject. The crazy thing is that most of his peers have them and/or have had them. He doesn’t take it to school and it resides in the house mostly right now. The exception being when he is out somewhere. This really was one of the drivers behind allowing him to get it because more and more he was going places- sports practices, scouting events etc. and the thought was it would be easier to coordinate directly with him in terms of pickup etc.

      We definitely had a talk about the appropriate use of the phone and the dangers is poses. Frankly the contract that he signed assisted with that.

      I love hearing other people’s thoughts on what has and hasn’t worked for them. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Audrey says:

    We solved the problem (for now!) by giving our children a “dumb” phone. Safe, yet safe! We’ll keep this contract handy should we decide to upgrade!

    • cnbrockett says:

      You know, we thought about the “dumb” phone but honestly figured that it might be easier now to start reinforcing the lessons of internet safety that they already get at home with the phone- if for no other reason than frankly all of their friends have smart phones and they would encounter these challenges anyway. Thanks for your comment!

  4. I am not at this bridge yet! Thank Goodness lol. I dread the days but I understand in this day and age kids are getting them younger and younger. UGh

  5. April says:

    I also went with the do they really “need” a phone vs just a want, a convenience. I work from home and homeschool my kids – why would they need one? But when they started doing activities and we couldn’t find a pay phone, and business aren’t eager to let their phone be used, I really started re-thinking. Most of all, I wanted them to have one so I could get ahold of them – so it came down to my convenience :-).

    Also, I’m a huge advocate for teaching my kids how to function in the “real” world before they’re of age to do whatever they want legally. They need to know how to use all of the technology we have/will have as tools. As adults we don’t always have this figured out, I want to be able to guide my kids through dumb mistakes. We all make them…

    We also did a contract of sorts (not just cell, it’s all electronics and technology) and it is understood devices and access are actually mine and they get to use them, it is not a right.

  6. Shelah says:

    We only have cell phones (no land lines) so we had to get our kids their own phones when they were old enough to stay home by themselves (about 10 years old). The catch? No smartphones. Just plain old
    text-capable phones that can just call or text.. no image texts as well. It has worked for us.

    • cnbrockett says:

      Thanks for the feedback Shelah. It’s amazing to me that so many people now only have their cell phones. Things really have changed.

  7. Jasmine says:

    Great idea! I am with you on the whole electronics debate and I still find myself handing my phone over to my 1 yr old! T_T
    I will definitely be using this template when my kids are old enough!
    Thanks!

  8. Bravo to you! What a wonderful way to handle the situation. I wish I would have been more diligent with limitations on the phone early on. It is quite a struggle to reel it in after the fact. I am going to read this to my teenage daughter!

    • cnbrockett says:

      Thanks Yolanda. I like to say I’m a work in progress- just trying to figure it all out along the way and hopefully not make too many mistakes!

  9. I love the contract! I only have one child and he’s two. My husband and I have only briefly talked about when we would think it could be the right time. I hate to think about how it will be when he becomes a teenager. I think you’re doing a great job with this contract and the rules you have put into place!

  10. Wonderful, well thought out contract! I will definitely be using this same idea (and words) when my kids get to this stage and not just with cell phones. Great wording! I love the responsibility it lays on them. Huge key to growing up. I have fought all these same ideas as you. I totally relate. Thank you for your great insight and plowing the waters before me 🙂

    • cnbrockett says:

      Feel free to use it and modify as necessary. So much changes so fast, we as parents have to keep up and adjust accordingly.

  11. I can tell that you’ve considered the pros and cons very well. And great work on the contract too! I might do the same in the future. It’s good that you considered your son’s maturity vs. age. It seems he’s responsible enough to be given that privilege. And I do like what Audrey and Shelah did. Perhaps a “dumb” phone is a better solution? Like you said, your son leaves the phone at home most of the time. If he needs to use the internet for research, he could do it at home where you can better monitor his online activities. I’m not at that phase yet where I need to debate on whether to give my daughter a smart phone or not, but as a former teacher, I’ve seen both the good points and repercussions of handling kids the technology.

  12. cnbrockett says:

    Thanks Ces… the technology issue is out there and getting more complex with every day. A lot I think comes down to teaching your children sound lessons along the way to help guide them to making the right choices. Thanks so much for your comment!

  13. Bernadette says:

    I LOVE the concept of a congratulatory contract with your child. I also don’t think it is about an age, per se, but it should be about a set of expectations, responsibilities and experiences which you cover beautifully in the contract concept.

    Not only does it lay out expectations, but it introduces a kid to real world concepts (contractual obligations, consequences, expectations, etc) in an easy to understand way that is relevant to their life.

    • cnbrockett says:

      Thanks Bernadette. I am a firm believer in clearly defining expectations. We even have our “Brockett House Rules” framed and hanging in our kitchen. They were rules we developed as a family and still refer to. In fact, I cited one today in disciplining my daughter 🙂

  14. Marie says:

    I like the idea of a contract. We started off with a “kids” phone for the older kids to take with them when they were gone from home. It was nice to be able to contact them and they could contact us more easily if need be. But it wasn’t “their” phone so it limited what they could do with it. They’re older now and have their own phones, but they’re pretty responsible with them. Nice thoughts!

    • cnbrockett says:

      Marie,

      It really is convenient to be able to get in touch with them. But we monitor the account and he knows it isn’t his phone- just something he can borrow.

  15. Jill says:

    Our kids are too young for phones just yet, but I know in a few years we’ll come up against this issue. I think you have to have a certain level of trust in your kids that they will respect the benefit they get from having their own phone and not abuse the privilege.

  16. Cindy says:

    This is a discussion I saw on facebook the other day when it came to getting a three year old a tablet. I think for my future kids I wouldn’t be comfortable with them having their own technology until they are old enough to understand boundaries and expectations for them to use their electronics. That won’t ocme down to a set age, rather their maturity level.

    • cnbrockett says:

      Honestly I do believe it does need to be based on maturity rather than age. My children are both so different…this might work for my son at 12 but not for my daughter at that age. It just depends.

  17. Finch says:

    I love your contract and all the “scary” realities it addresses. I hope more parents follow your lead.

  18. Corinna says:

    I love the idea of a cell phone contract! Great opportunity for teaching children to be responsible and follow rules. I agree that there is not a magic age for cell phones…it is about when you and your child are both ready.

  19. Heather McD says:

    I love that contract. My kids are still young, so I haven’t really begun to think about when they will get a cell phone. I think in a lot of ways, it’s more about maturity than age. I think this post is great at approaching the the pitfalls and the benefits of having a cell phone for kids.

    • cnbrockett says:

      Thanks Heather. Like I said, the contract idea wasn’t mine but I made it my own to address the things that I felt were important for our family. Like anything, parenting needs to be customized.

  20. Jill says:

    I LOVE this contract idea! Great job. I think it’s hard to know when exactly is the ‘right age’ but I think this contract idea, and the responsibility it appears to instill, is awesome. I’ll be sharing this with friends of mine as the kids get to the point where this conversation rears its head. Thank you for sharing!!

  21. Amy says:

    This contract idea is genius! I’ll have to keep it in mind for the future. I’ll bet it could apply to other “privileges” as well… I’m teaching my 4yo that ALL screen time is a privilege… TV is not a right! The cell phone conversation isn’t on my radar yet and I’m sort of dreading it when it gets here!

    • cnbrockett says:

      Honestly Amy we have rules on all screen time as well. It is so easy for them to become absorbed in it. I like to think of it like a technology diet. You wouldn’t eat chocolate or sugar all day- well screen time is just like that in my opinion. I’ve used that analogy with my 8-year-old and it’s something that she can really visualize and relate to.

  22. I don’t know…for me it was personal and practical. I travelled a lot and always wanted my children to be able to reach me regardless of where I was so all forms of communication…cell phones, pagers…whatever it took were important.

  23. Kimi LeVadge says:

    I got a cell phone when I could afford to buy one myself. I was 15 at the time, and I babysat during the week to earn my money. When I say I appreciated that phone – I mean it, because I knew how much it took for me to afford it. Three weeks of babysitting for an almost outdated Qualcom flip phone. Even though I bought it and paid for my minutes, I knew not to violate my parents by being on it too much. I’m 26 now, and I still remember those days.

    My sister is 13, and she has an iPhone. She is monitored, but trusted enough that she’ll behave appropriately. The good thing is, you have parental controls at your fingertips. As long as that phone is under your plan, you can see their calls, how many times they text per day, and regulate what sites they can access. Don’t be afraid of technology, just remember that there is a happy medium. You’ll be fine – I turned out okay (I think)!

  24. Aishah says:

    How did CJ like the contract?

    As a parent, I think it’s a great contract. My oldest is only 5 but this is something that has been on my mind. I am sure my kids will eventually have their own cell phones but when remains to be seen.

  25. Mary says:

    Thanks God I have not had that problem, I gave cell to my children since they were 8 years old, I put them to parental control apps that you can download to the phone and programs that the cellphone provider offer to block number and you can schedule calls and text. It’s the way that i use to got them under control and supervised at all times. Great post. Thanks for sharing!

  26. Becky says:

    That contract idea is great! I don’t have kids yet, but already fear how it will be so different from when I was a kid. There are so many dangers out there. This is something my husband and I will need to look into later on. Thanks!

  27. A cell phone contract is a great idea! I know I will struggle with this when my son gets older. I don’t want him to be left out or made fun of because he doesn’t have a phone—but there are so many dangers to them, too. Like you mentioned in a comment above, I suppose he could potentially be exposed to them anyway through a friend’s phone, too. Teaching them technology responsibility instead of denying them the privilege might be the way to go. But then, more and more evidence is coming out about EMF and radio wave exposure- esp for kids over the long term. Great post!

  28. Lori says:

    Thanks for sharing your contract with us! It looks like it covers all the bases that pre/teenagers would like to work around. My kids are still preschoolers, so I almost dread to see what will be around when they get of age!

    • cnbrockett says:

      Lori-

      I can’t even imagine what will be around by the time your preschoolers are in the pre/teenager stage. It’s crazy!

  29. Still sporting an old cell phone, I am not even ready to upgrade to text or a smart phone. With my children ages 8,6, and 4, I still have some time, though not a lot, to make these decisions. I have saved your post to POCKET for future reference. I know I will need it sooner than I’d like. Thanks for the post and for teaching your child responsibility.

    • cnbrockett says:

      Thanks Tracy for the kind words. Believe me the time will come before you know it for you and your kids. It’s crazy how fast they grow up and the challenges that you face as a parent along the way.

  30. Love the contract idea! I don’t have kids yet, but I know I didn’t get a cell phone until I was almost 17.

  31. Missy says:

    I don’t have children yet, but I do understand the conflict. You want your child to have a normal childhood without getting sucked into the cell phone rage too much. But it is a thin line between when & why to give them one. For me, I don’t understand why parents think their young children need them….that’s crazy to me. I can understand once they are getting older maybe needing one. I never got one until right before I left for college, it wasn’t something my parents were going to pay for. Guess I’ll cross that road when I come to it…

  32. Carol says:

    Wonderful contract!! My girls received cell phones when they were 16. Oh man do we have regrets about cellphones, computer usage, etc. We had plenty of rules in place, and as far as we knew, they were being respected. (Back then, I really didn’t know much about HOW teenagers work around our systems….like the texting app for the Ipod Touch that my daughter found, without me knowing! I could write a whole bunch of posts on how to stay ahead of a teenagers game, now. LOL It’s so easy for the kids to cave to “curiosity”, even if not peer pressure. After finding a sexting e-mail in my daughters account (from a boy she met at our church’s youthgroup 🙁 ), my husband drilled the phone out of my daughter’s phone for good measure! LOL

  33. Angela says:

    I have a love hate relationship with technology and kids. I love this contract idea. I’m thinking when ours get old enough to have a cell phone we will get an extra phone that will be used among the kids. Mostly because I’m cheap like that. 🙂

    • cnbrockett says:

      Angela-

      I like the idea of using a phone between the kids. Right now I think only my son is mature enough. But by the time my daughter gets there- say in 4 years, my son will be 16 and I could see them both needing one.

  34. I personally do not feel that a child needs a cell phone before 17 years ago. Apparently, I am a minority 🙂

    Rachel recently wrote Using the Oreo Cookie to Get Clients

  35. Gina says:

    There are so many variables. I depends on your situation, maturity of the child, etc.

    I’m a single mom and for me it was important to have that connection. My older children had a basic pre-paid cellphone at the age of 8. I taught them how to text me and that it was only to communicate with me. They are now teenagers and still use a basic prepaid phone. My teenage is son is taking a computer programming class, the kids have tablets, etc. They aren’t digitally naive. I mean, it would only take 10-15 minutes (tops) for them to familiarize themselves with a smart phone. For us, a cellphone is purely for communication and not entertainment.

    • cnbrockett says:

      Gina,

      That is the scary reality, they aren’t digitally naive. It becomes hard then to stay out in front when really they are surpassing you when it comes to certain elements of technology.

  36. MommyLES says:

    My kids have their cellphones and I think it’s not too late to give them this kind of contract. Thanks for sharing!

    • cnbrockett says:

      Glad to help. Even if they have cell phones, a contract like this one might open up the dialog regarding areas that you hadn’t previously discussed. I know it did for us when we sat down and reviewed it.

  37. Val says:

    I think our son (youngest) was around 10 when he got his first cell phone. Not smartphones, regular old cell phones. It was cheaper to add him onto our plan than to keep the house line going. The kids were home at times alone and I wasn’t comfortable with him home and me not being able to contact him. He was also starting to stay are more people’s houses that I didn’t know very well.

    The kids have always been told that it’s our phone. We can and have taken it at anytime and checked messages or pictures. They’ve also been talked to about inappropriate pictures and how much trouble it could cause for their Dad. Technically the phones are his. He’s in public service and if inappropriate pictures are ever found on there he technically could lose his job.

  38. I love the contract and think it’s a great idea!!

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