What Is the Deal with So Many Young Kids (6, 7 & 8) Having Their Own Cell Phones

Updated on August 16, 2016
S.T. asks from Scarborough, ME
17 answers

My eight year old asked me last year when he was going to get a phone. I replied not until you are much older and it is a necessity. Then he complained he is only kid on our street without one. And that is close to true. We have absolutely no plans to change our view of the phone. But I'm just curious why so many others are OK with it? I know some of these phones just play games & they are not used for calling or texting. But some are. It's just a question I can't ask a friend outright without sounding judgemental "What made you comfortable with the idea of letting your 8 year old daughter have a fully activated phone?". We would not be comfortable with that but I know every parent has the absolute right to make their own decisions for their children. My children are 6 and 8, they do play games on our ipad in the morning and they do watch tv but I worry about it being too much. It gets weird for example when neighborhood kids show up to play with my children and these kids bring along their phones or other devices so play means play on these devices. Our neighborhood used to be kids getting together and running around playing ball, made up games, riding bikes but now towards the end of summer several 6, 7 and 8 year olds are all about "playing" outside or inside on devices. These kids are good kids and I don't have a problem with my kids actually playing with them so should I just accept the fact that when they go out to play it may be "traditional" play or it may be "device" play? OK when I say "traditional" play it makes me sound very old. Maybe I am;)

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answers from St. Louis on

In my experience it is one, maybe two kids that have phones. That equals everyone in a child's mind.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Yes it could mean either traditional or electronic playing when they play with friends. As long as there is a combination of both, I don't really care. My parents didn't dictate what games I played with my friends when I was a kid (and there was plenty of Atari) and I don't micromanage my kids' play with their friends when they come over either.

And as you point out, kids use "phone" as a synonym for "device that connects to wifi". So most of them at this age (my older is 10 so that's my reference point) don't actually have phones, they have iPods.

ETA: Straight from my 10 year old - I asked him if any of his friends have real phones. He said basically no. He knows 1 kid with a real phone, and that kid is 2 years older than him. Everyone else has iPods or old iPhones with no service.

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answers from Boston on

I have neighbors who are all over the spectrum on this issue. Most are really holding back and not giving kids phones until 15, then debating for the 2nd child and maybe slipping to 14. Others are doing it at slightly younger ages, but only those who have kids in something like a long gymnastics program and parents have no idea when pick-up time will be on any given day. But no one at 6/7/8 has a phone. No one. They play outside, ride bikes, throw a frisbee, collect cool rocks, or play make-believe. It's really fine and they are all surviving.

I agree that younger kids who have a phone most likely have a hand-me-down, but I really question if as many have them as your child thinks. We all told our parents, "I'm the only kid in the class who ______." That's just part of childhood in every generation. Only the specific area of "deprivation" changes over the generations. Your parents didn't fall for it, and neither should you.

I do think you can ask respectfully, as said below in "How did you know it was the right time?" I also think, if kids show up to play and bring devices, you can absolutely say that devices go on the kitchen table, just as shoes go in the shoe tray by the door, and food is consumed in the kitchen or outside vs. the family room. You don't have to make a speech, just say that it's time for outside play or Legos in the playroom or a board game sprawled out on the family room floor. If there's any screen time, it can be on a big screen that everyone can share (and you can monitor). Quite a few of us, when our kids were little, had a "no weapons" policy, and kids who showed up with toy guns and whatnot just put them on the porch or other designated spot, and that was it. No speeches, no challenges, just house rules.

I don't understand why a kid needs a phone if he's riding a bike with friends in the neighborhood. Our kids knew the neighbors and vice versa, and if anyone needed something, they either sent a friend home to me or hit up one of the neighbors. We've all patched up each other's kids' scraped knees or put a chain back on a bike, and nobody thinks twice about it. I realize not everyone has that kind of neighborhood, but honestly, in a true emergency, no child is going to have the presence of mind to dial home or fight off a kidnapper to do so. So we used a buddy system and set the outer perimeter for how far they could go alone vs. in a group of 2 vs. a group of 4 or more. My stepdaughter got a phone for her 11 year old because they were living in a not-so-great neighborhood and the child had several hours at home alone before my stepdaughter got home from work, but the phone really only would have been good for dialing 911. My stepdaughter worked an hour away, and I truly don't know what she thought she was going to do if her daughter needed her this instant, you know?

I do think a lot of parents are unwilling to be parents, which means saying "no" sometimes and also means being inconvenienced sometimes by having to set up a pick-up time, ask the other kid's parent when the birthday party will be over, or teach a kid to tell time so he can come home at X o'clock. I can see divorced parents who give a kid a phone so they don't have to go through the ex all the time (or tie up the ex's phone), but that phone doesn't have to leave the kid's house either. My husband has 2 older kids, and we put in a landline for them at their mother's house (her wish) - maybe a cell phone is cheaper now, but the point is, the phone is not to be carried all over creation. I'll bet, if you survey people, you'll find that 95% of them got their kids a phone to avoid inconvenience or to get rid of the child's nagging. My cousin has a child who will be 3 shortly, and he has already broken 2 iPhones so now he's relegated to the iPad. Really. It seems that he screams if he can't watch "Wheels on the Bus" - same as he does when he doesn't want to sit in a booster seat or go into the car seat. They give him the phone because they won't tell him "No, you can't run around the restaurant" or "No, you can't stand up in the airplane and dump a glass of water on the person in the seat behind you." So, the phone is really to make my cousin's life easier. I fear for their future!

I don't think any child needs a hand-held game device to take in every backpack or lunch box. I just don't. There can be screen time at home that is monitored by parents both for duration and content.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I think that this is the era of very anxious parenting: Is my kid going to be snatched walking home from school? Is he going to the last one picked up from soccer practice? Is he going to be socially ostracized cause he doesn't play Pokémon-go? Are there educational apps other kids are using that my kid can't use cause we don't have a smartphone for him to use?

I've felt a lot of this, and then I realized that I got around my hometown, did school activities, had friends, became an educated person without having the equivalent of a personal computer in my hand.

Our son has an ancient flip phone, just the way mom and dad have. DH and I both are busy professionals, and we've never been unable to reach or service our clients because we didn't have smartphones. And, to some degree, I think aside from the anxiety, what drives smartphones for kids is parents having them..issued by their companies or purchased on their own to be in 24/7 contact with the office. Mom and Dad have them, they become part of family life, and they become great ways to distract a child who is undergoing a meltdown. They demonstrate value in a time of distress, so there is a positive association created.

Anyway, that is my speculation...and please don't take any of this as a criticism if you've made different decisions.

Finally, in regards to play: When kids come to our house, they don't play on devices. They go outside, to the park, play board games, cook with me, go to the pool. When our son goes to his friends' homes, he is free to play with their devices at their homes.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

Actually, you can absolutely ask their parents why they chose to get them a phone. I've done it many times, and I've never offended anyone. It's usually easier if their child is older than mine, because I can just say, "I realize Tommy is getting to the age where buying him a phone might make sense. I'm just curious, how did you know it was the right time?" Now, I have had a couple of parents say, "Oh, that wasn't me. My husband bought it," or something similar. But it usually has to do with after school activities or childcare. One friend is divorced and it made it easier to call his daughter when she was at her mom's house (also he's a techy, so I think he just wanted to do it). My SIL said her son was always out riding bikes with friends and she wanted him to be able to contact her.

I agree with you that many of these kids are way too young for their own phone. I have a 4th grader, and I don't think any of his friends have cell phones. That could have changed this summer :-)

Some of the kids probably have an IPod (not phone) or their parent's old phone that no longer has service. My boys often play on my old IPhone, but it doesn't belong to either one of them. I have an IPad and the old phone that they can play on, but they have passcodes and I set limits.

Technology is great, but it can be abused.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

i agree with you. and we will see the consequences down the line when we realize all of the negative effects these devices could have on our kids. we as a society have given in to corporate media telling us that we, and all of our family members, are deprived, disadvantaged, and backwards for not jumping up and paying hundreds of dollars for the latest gadget.

maybe parents believe that the phones will keep their kids quiet. or function as a status symbol among their friends. or make their lives safer. regardless, i think you are very smart to question all of this.

i told my 9 year old kid that she would get a prepaid emergency only (limited to parent/grandparent #s and 911, something like that) only when necessary, like when she starts taking the bus alone, or carpooling to extracurricular events, etc, none of which she is doing now. i then added that after that, she can a phone of her choice when she is old enough to have a job and pay for it.

thanks for your question. take care!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I think Gidget had a great suggestion of just politely asking the other parents. They might have reasons. Some pass their phones on to the kids; some kids may have two homes with divorced parents and both parents may want to have direct access.... I do admit, I have to wonder about some parents feeling it's a necessity. I went back and forth between my parent's houses (weekends visitation, other visits) and we never felt compelled to have that much of a conversation when we weren't with each other. Sometimes my sister and I would take the Grayhound/Trailways buses from one town to the other going between households-- I think our parents always assumed that the other parent would call if we hadn't shown up, you know? But for some families, the phone seems to work, esp if one parent or the other may not be great about communicating or if the kids feel they need to stay in touch.

As for playtime--- I'm fine with letting my son play on the PlayStation for about an hour with a friend, and then, yeah, I usually send them outside to play because A. they get antsy and B. I find the music/game noise annoying. Buy a pack of water balloons! That's worked really well at our house. My take-away is that if we want our kids to buck the technology and go do something different, provide some fun opportunities. That said, my kid is in his bedroom right now with the iPad, using it for creating stop-motion 'movies' with Legos. If he's doing that with his friends when they are visiting, I'm totally fine with it. They are the ones in charge of that time. If the friend is just bringing the phone to play a game by themselves, my son has the choice of either hanging out and watching or going to do something else. And he might think twice about choosing that particular friend to have over again. I don't know-- we haven't actually encountered this issue.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

People asked me when my oldest had one at 6 (now 13), I never took offense. She has been a competitive dancer and some of her practices were closed. At 6, I wanted her to be able to get a hold of me if necessary, or me her. I didn't know the other dance parents as well as I do now back then. My 11 year old got his phone when he was 10 and we have a 9 year old who will likely get one this year as well.

Our kids don't spend all day on their devices. They go outside and play, they go to the pool, we go to movies with friends, we go to the park, on walks, etc. But we aren't raising them to think technology is the devil. We aren't making it hard for them to obtain electronics and learn how to use them. Today's world is centered around technology. Not letting your kids use them is, in my opinion, far more detrimental than letting them use them.

When my boys have sleepovers, their friends will often bring their PS4 controllers and they will play that when it's too hot/cold/raining/etc outside. If it's not, they will be outside playing basketball, football, or baseball. I think teaching your kids a healthy use of electronics is more important than making the devices seem bad.

Does your school not use iPads? All of our local public schools use iPads for learning as well. The kids are given username and passwords for sites to use at home. It's how kids learn now.

But ask the parents of the kids who have them. Find out why they decided to get them. Maybe it's peer pressure, maybe their kids are simply spoiled, maybe they have sports that would benefit the parents knowing their kids have a phone, maybe it is the walk home from school, you just don't know. If a parent takes offense to you asking a question, that's a bigger problem then their kid having a phone.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Personally, the only young kids I know that have cell phones are the kids who were given their parents old iPhones when the parents updated. They don't have data plans or even phone plans, they are basically used as an iPod touch. The only older kids I know with phones have them because parents are divorced and share custody, and it is easier for them to have a phone. They generally only have phone plans, no data plans. Other than that the kids I know have to wait until they get a part time job to pay for phones. My kids don't have phones and won't until they can pay for them. They have been walking to school for years without a phone, just as I walked to school without a phone.

ETA: As for devices other than phones, most of the kids I know do have some type of hand held gaming device, PSP, DS, iPod, tablet etc. They are handy to have. It's up to the parents to limit the amount of time spent on these devices.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

Times have changed. This is "their" peer group normal. I don't have to agree to it and just this year our 12 year old got a smart phone. I am going to add another grandchild in the next couple of years but he's not old enough yet. I told my granddaughter that we'd "talk" about her getting a phone when she turned 10. My thoughts on it, shared with her all along, is that having a phone is a huge responsibility. Taking care of it, not losing it, not breaking the screen, etc...so she had to prove she could care for things. She didn't take care of her cats, she didn't feed them, didn't water them, their litter box was cleaned by me too. So "I" got a new phone and she didn't get one at all. Until this year when I got a free one for switching to another provider. Her line is only $15 per month so I'm good with that.

I do think that when kids come to your house you can choose to tell them to put their phones up though. If they're coming over to play they could at least play something there.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

My daughter is 8. She won't receive a cell until she's about 12. My 14yr old has one and has for 2yrs now. The ONLY reason he had one at 12 was because he was walking to school. I wanted him to have a means of calling me in case of an emergency. I do believe that an 8yr old is a little too young for a cell BUT I also think that it depends on the schedule the child has. IE, dance classes, alternating wknds w dad/mom, camp etc.

My son received an expensive cell from his father for graduation. He would never get anything like that from me. But I also know that in addition to his dad being able to reach him easily, I can too and that's the "bonus". The not-so-bonus side for me is when my son needs to go out for some fresh air (bike riding, play) but procrastinates because he's playing his favorite game on his cell. It's bitter-sweet.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

My 16 yo granddaughter has a go phone (pay as you go) with limited Internet access. I've noticed that not all.of her friends have phones. A couple have flip phones. Mostly they text each other and those who have a smart phone listen to music. I ask her to text me when plans change. At 16, she's usually out with friends. I want to keep limited contact.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Tampa on

We didn't get my daughter a phone until she was in high school and our church would go on activities and they would require the kids to call home when they were close to arriving so we could pick them up. We held off for a long while, and she used others' phones, but then kids didn't want her to, so we had to get her one. My son started playing baseball in high school and he needed to let me know when he was done with practice, so we got him one. HOWEVER, I homeschool my children, and in this day and age, I would feel differently if they were in public school. We do however, have rules to usage, etc.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

There are two parts to your question, so I will respond in two parts as well. My daughter is 10, she has had her own "phone" since she was about 6. I put "phone" in quotation marks because there is no service on that phone -- no calling plan, no data plan, so it doesn't function in the way we think a traditional phone would. Her father pre-loaded her phone with a bunch of games for her to play. Through Wi-Fi, she can have access to YouTube for music. It was his old Samsung Galaxy SII. It is a perfectly good phone that works, but he upgraded several times since, and there was no reason to get rid of it. He told her someday it will be her phone but at this rate, that phone will be like an old brick tablet from the cavemen days by the time she is ready to have her own phone. My daughter is in aftercare at her school, so there is no need for me to buy her a phone. If I am running even 5 minutes late, the aftercare is calling me to find out my status. If she is with her father or her grandparents, they all have cellphones and there is no reason for me to feel she would be unable to use them, if she needed to speak to me. She also has a tablet, an Amazon Fire, and not only does she have games on it, but she also has Skype, so she can call me through that as well (again, it relies on Wi-Fi). She will be entering middle school next year, and she will have to be in some sort of aftercare program so I still don't think she will be needing a cellphone. I drive her to school and pick her up, and same goes for any other activity. Birthday parties, I attend with her. Extracurricular activities, either I attend with her or another relative does.

As to why parents send their kids off to someone's home with a phone, well, that's not my business. I can also ask why someone sends their kids to a sleepover with their own pillow, but to each his own. As parents, if they want their kids sitting on their phones all day, that's their child and they can raise their child as they see fit. I have no right to tell another parent that they should limit their kids' screen time just because I said so or I think it's bad for kids. All I can do, is raise my child as I see fit. More than likely though, they are packing the phones in case the kids run out of things to do, it is late at night, or it is raining. It's not meant to be their sole source of entertainment. If you want to get around that, just plan some fun activities so that the kids don't have a chance to whip out their DS or tablets and play. A lot of kids are not very outdoorsy and just lack the creativity to go on a forest hike (or their parents don't allow them to do this at their age), or do any fun outdoor activities like building a birdhouse. It may not always be a case of a kid being a technology addict, but not having experienced building a campfire, putting up a tent, and going fishing, for example. If you suggest these things and show them how fun it can be, they will probably lose interest in their tablet because it will be a new experience for them. Some kids end up loving things like kayaking or horseback riding because their own parents never exposed them to it, but a friend did, and they end up considering it a hobby.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

I know as a teacher the kids I see most with phones are those that are splitting time between two different homes. So they can always call mom or dad in the evenings and visit when they are with the other parent.

My son is going off to middle school this year and we got him a phone but it is built into a watch. It calls and has limited texting of 16 numbers we pre-program. It does not have internet or photo capabilities. We told him it is his practice phone. Can he take care of it? Not lose it?

He is already going to practices at the school where I drop him off and pick him up. He has used it several times when practice got out early.

I am not ready for my kids to have free access to the internet and the ability to take and send photos.

I also think a lot of parents upgrade their old phones and pass them down to their kids as gaming devices then slowly to use as phones.

When my kids go play they take their tablets and play video games with their friends. My DD also takes her american girl doll or they take swimsuits if their friends have a pool. As much as they are changing times and type of play are the same. I remember we would go to whoever had the best video game consoles house...but maybe that shows how young I am...I hope :-)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I'm with you. I don't get it. When my kids were younger (my younger boys are now 10 & 12) and friends came over with phones, I would say "hey let's put your phone in this basket where it will be safe while you play and if you need to use it, you can come and ask me and I'll get it for you. I'd hate for you to break or lose it while you're running around outside." They looked startled at first but no kids refused our house rules and rarely did they ask for the phones during their visit. If I knew a kid had a phone and that the parent would expect to reach them on it to arrange for pick up, etc. I would let the parent know that I do this so that they could call my cell or house phone instead. If the kids wanted to use the phone to look up a silly video on YouTube or listen to some music I would let them, but I encouraged them to use the tablet my kids share instead so it wasn't just one guest playing on his phone the whole time. Initially I was really taken aback and quite honestly annoyed the people would send their young children to my house with expensive electronics. It really is an imposition. I would never send my young kid somewhere with something expensive like an iPad or something where another parent needed to worry about kids getting into trouble online (like a smartphone), especially without asking the hosting parents if it was OK. When my oldest kids (both 18) were younger, parents were more careful about sending electronics. If someone really felt that their 10-year-old needed to have a phone on them, parents would let me know and more or less ask me if I minded. And these weren't even phones with the whole world at your fingertips! Now, though, kids just walk around with phones in their pockets, doing whatever they want, at a really young age.

This is such an issue that we are having a social media expert come and talk to parents are our school (which is grades 3-5) because so many parents give their kids devices with no supervision and no clue as to what kinds of apps their kids are using, who they're talking to and what they're doing.

FWIW my kids don't get phones until they are 13 and they are heavily monitored for the first few years.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Houston on

We bought one phone for our kids to share when they left the house when our daughter started driving, so 16/17. Our son was 12/13 which meant he didn't use the phone very much. It was a flip phone with NO texting.

We finally got texting for our daughter when she went to college because that was how her sorority communicated with everyone. Also, I went back to work and our son was going to be walking home alone.

Personally, I think kids get phones way too early.

1 mom found this helpful
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