6 Questions to Ask Before Getting Your Child a Cell Phone

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by: Lindsay Hutton
At what age should you get your child a cell phone? According to PewResearch Center, the average age is between 12 and 13, but when to get your child a cell phone is a personal decision, and can vary from kid to kid based on maturity and need. Before you decide to add your child to your family plan, ask yourself these questions.
Young girl using flip phone
Why Does She Need It?
If the only answer is "because her friends have one," you might want to think more about the decision. According to Consumer Reports, 6 out of 10 parents of children ages 8 to 12 provide them with a cell phone, with 84 percent citing safety as their main concern, and 73 percent using it as a way to track after-school activities.

If you and your child are not often apart beyond school hours, a cell phone may not be a serious necessity, but if she is independent and involved with extracurricular activities or hobbies outside of your home, a cell phone could be useful during emergencies and as a convenient means of communication with you. If you feel your child is too young for texting and Web access, basic phones that only allow phone calls are available.

Boy sending text message in class
How Responsible is He?
Having a cell phone is a privilege, and allowing your child to have one means you trust he is responsible enough to use it appropriately. Will he be able to keep track of where it is and take good care of it, or are you worried he'll drop it in the toilet the first day he has it? If he brings it to school, will he follow his school rules on where and when it can be used? Will he use the ability to text, take pictures, and record videos responsibly and not as a way to embarrass or harass others? Ask yourself all of these questions, and have a discussion with your child about responsible technology use, before handing over a new phone.
Female teen texting and driving
Does She Understand the Safety Issues?
Most cell phones can be used in more ways than just calling for a ride home. Is your child old enough to be trusted to use her phone safely and follow any rules you've set when it comes to using it? According to PewResearch Center, 74 percent of teens ages 12-17 report accessing the Internet from their phone or mobile device and, according to AAA, 46 percent of teens admit to texting while driving.

Cyberbullying, texting and driving, and the use of social media apps are issues you need to discuss before allowing your child to have a cell phone.

Asian boy wearing headphones using cell phone
Does He Understand the Cost?
All cell phone plans are different. While some offer unlimited text messages and minutes, others offer only a set amount of minutes, texts, and data per month and will charge extra if anyone on your plan exceeds that limit. Additionally, apps, music, and movie downloads can all cost extra if your child has a smartphone. Make sure your child understands the cost of having a cell phone and can be trusted to stay within his limits from month to month. Some options to help control costs include prepaid or postpaid phones, accessing parental controls offered by your carrier to help control costs, and setting a monthly budget for your child, with consequences such as losing phone privileges if she exceeds it.
Teen boys taking selfie on cell phone
Which Functions Are Appropriate?
PewResearch Center reports 37 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 now have a smart phone, with access to the Internet, music, text messaging, videos, and more. Before you get your child a phone with any of these functions, determine whether or not they are appropriate and necessary. For example, is your child on social media? Would you feel comfortable knowing he can access social media from her phone? If the phone is truly for communication with you, you may consider a device without all of the added capabilities, or at minimum, know what you can do to help keep his usage safe and appropriate.
Mom and daughter playing with cell phone
How Can I Keep My Child's Phone Usage Safe and Under Control?
Before you get your child a phone, specifically outline and discuss what it can be used for, rules she is expected to follow, and consequences if she fails to follow them. For example, is the phone only to be used to call family, or can it be used socially? Is she allowed to text or access the Internet? Talk to her about the dangers of sexting, texting and driving, and cyberbullying. Print off and have her sign this online agreement and, if she drives, this safe driving contract for teens.

Also, educate yourself on what social media apps are popular with tweens and teens. If you prefer to take an extra step towards monitoring her phone use, these apps allow you to track your child's mobile activity.