When Is It Time for a Cell Phone?

Updated on November 10, 2018
R.J. asks from Palm Harbor, FL
16 answers

My son is 10.5 and has been asking for a phone for quite some time.
This is a new territory for us, so we are struggling as how to handle it.
Our situation is that we drive him to school, and pick him up. We do not as this point drop him off at sports practices alone, or anyone for that matter.
I understand this a whole new era for pre teens and teens. And of course we have heard how he is the ONLY one with out a phone. LOL We do not have a land line at home.
We are considering getting him a phone for Christmas, we have went to our carrier and they do have reasonably priced phones and our plan would not go up that much.
I would just like insight from other mom's whose kids around this age have phones.
Do you have an expectation for them to "earn" having/keeping the phone? Do they lose the phone as a consequence?
We of course plan on not allowing the phone in his room at night. We will put parental blocks on certain things as well. We do NOT plan on letting him have facebook or twitter at this point either if we do get the phone.
I'm just spinning my wheels here. I don't want to be the overly strict mom, but also don't want to be overly indulgent either.
Our only real battle with him is and has always been his mouth and attitude at home. He is a good student, and athlete. He's the typical messy, forgetful 10 year old.
Any insight appreciated!

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Don't buy the "everyone else has one" argument. It's simply not true.

However, if he has a WiFi device (iPod, tablet of some kind), he can get a free messaging app that assigns a phone number to his device that he can use to text with his friends.
Many kids this age arrange get-togethers or online gaming with each other by text.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

My 12 year and 9 year both have Gizmo watch phones. They have limited text and call capability for selected contacts mom dad, grandma etc. It’s more for saftey pick up drop offs and for us to call them when at friends houses or at sports.

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Honolulu on

This is what we considered when it was the "do we get him a phone" time.

1. Is the kid generally responsible, or has he lost nearly every jacket, backpack, book, homework that ever has passed through his hands? Does he put his bike where it's supposed to be or do you have to move it out of the driveway every single morning? If he loses or breaks everything, adding a phone into the mix is probably not a good idea. If he's just sloppy, that's not a deal-breaker.

2. Is your son willing and able to understand phone bills, data plans, what things cost extra money (in games, premium texts, etc)? I'm talking about just a basic understanding, like "your phone will cost x$ per month, and you may not buy anything for a game or app without consulting us" kind of stuff. And both you and your son need to review the bill each month together.

3. We made a simple written contract together that we signed (parents and child). It stated that the phone was a privilege, it was never to be loaned to a friend, if it was lost or damaged it wouldn't be replaced for at least 30 days the first time and 60 days the next, then 90 days etc. The contract stated hours of use (not after, say, 8 pm or not during any school hours), and stated where the phone was to be plugged in before bed (in the kitchen or family room, not the bedroom). It also stated that the first phone would be simple - just a flip phone or something similar. If after one year the phone was in good condition, the contract had been met, attitudes and grades were acceptable, then possibly an upgrade could be achieved (better phone, or more apps or games, etc). Make sure you stick to the contract. And if your son is not willing to sit down and discuss how the phone will be used, then just tell him he's too young for a phone.

4. The child must agree to allow the parents at any time to review the history, the calls made, etc. Make sure the child knows that the phone service provider has an online record of phone use. If there are any passwords not disclosed to the parents, the phone goes. No discussion.

Just make sure he knows that now he has a clean slate and how he uses and takes care of the phone are steps towards getting a smart phone when he turns 13 (or whatever your acceptable age limit is). But if he loses it or won't abide by your rules, that 13 will turn into 14 or 15, or whenever he can earn enough on his own to buy that thousand dollar phone.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

My kids get phones for their 13th birthday. There is no need, in my family, to have one before that. Yes, they complain that they're the only ones without phones. That's patently false but even if it were true, I wouldn't care.

When they get phones, they are treated as a privilege. Let him know that it's YOUR phone and you just let him use it for YOUR convenience. He isn't entitled to it and you'll take it way if/when needed.

There are lots of resource out there for evolving best practices (KL Greer consulting is a great one - check out her website). Have a contract with him for how the phone is to be used, have parental controls so that he can't download apps without your permission, make sure you always have the PW and check for texts, photos, violent games, etc. The phone is in your room charging overnight. I don't let my kids take their phones to school until high school as there is no needed for them to have it there and be tempted to misuse it there. No phones at the table, no phones in restaurants or when visiting relatives, etc. It's so easy to use a phone as a crutch when bored or uncomfortable...take pains to avoid allowing that to happen to the extent that you can (we all do it, but you can limit it more with a child).

Honestly phones are a giant pain and a lot of work to manage. I'd hold off as long as you think you can but if you've decided it's the right time for your family, learn as much as you can and manage it tightly.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

I personally believe it's far too early for him to have a phone at all.

There is no reason at this age to have a smart phone. He could have a totally basic phone without the technology. You can't block everything on the phone if you give him that tech stuff.

Make sure that you check his phone messages, call history, etc. Never let him have a code that you don't know. You have absolute control over the phone or he has no phone.

If you don't start out like this, he has no reason to act responsibly with it because he won't have had to earn it.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

a simple flip phone?


a smart phone?

when he can contribute to its purchase.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I have a large age range between my kids and I've watched as their friends get them younger and younger each year.

My kids have not been the first, but they haven't been the last - somewhere in the middle I'd say - where we felt it was reasonable, and we didn't buy them the latest and greatest, but not the worst. We didn't have ones they would remotely consider cool (my husband had a flip phone for example) so we couldn't give them our old ones. We tied it in with birthdays.

Our kids did chores and helped out at home and did real work (mowed lawns, shoveled drives, etc.) so not basic stuff like emptying dishwasher. That paid for their phone plans. We didn't do data. They had wireless where they needed at friend's homes and at the rink.

We covered everything. We never use devices/electronics as punishments or rewards. That hasn't worked with our kids. We tied family time/skiing/etc. as rewards and punishments (if we absolutely had to) with our kids. They missed spending time with friends - that kind of thing. That worked far more with our kids. Don't clean your room? Then guess you're not going out this evening. It's far more of an incentive to get cracking.

So for us, it was middle school. Our middle school principal suggested it for then. We were going to hold off, but everyone went out and got their kids them. There was intense peer pressure. It was nuts if I recall. Now it seems to be the elementary school age. My kid is not interested. I hear some are getting them in fifth grade.

I would not - personally, at 10. I think it's too young. I would still hold off until middle school. Ours had iPods and mini iPads. They could text their friends.

We monitored use etc. like you say you will. Good plan.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

Just like anything else that is subjective, you are going to get answers anywhere from 5 yrs old to 25 yrs old. That being said, here is what we did:

Our kids didn't get cell phones until they had jobs (which most of them did at 15). Not because they had to pay for them, but because that was the earliest we felt they "needed" a phone. Their employer should be able to reach them regarding a schedule change or other issue. Needless to say, my kids really were about the last to get a cell phone. They got the janky, crappy, no data phones from us. If they wanted a nicer phone, they had to buy it themselves. If they wanted data, they had to buy their own monthly phone card. We provided the basic service - that's it.

As far as consequences, we really didn't use the cell phone for punishment - with a crappy no data phone, it really wasn't a threat anyways and if they had a nicer phone, they were paying for it with their own money so we didn't use that as a consequence, either. We did have a turn in spot on the counter initially, but once the kids had their own they were paying for, we let them do what they needed to do (plus, at this point they were 16 or older - the car was a way better "hammer" than a cell phone).

As far as not having a landline - I get that, we stopped ours before all the kids had cell phones. We used a cell phone as a landline (again, it was a janky, no data, flip phone) that sat on the counter. We made it stay plugged in so a kid couldn't wander off whilst talking on it, set it down and then no one could find it (happened once - we learned our lesson). In an emergency, a kid could take the cell phone we were using for a landline if they didn't have one yet.

Good luck. Don't buy into the whole "my kid needs one for safety." That's just justification in my opinion.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

We got an extra phone for the children to use when they needed it. It was a simple basic phone. No smart capabilities. No texting. They could call out and receive calls in. They turned it in when they got home from whatever activity required it. Once they got to high school, they got their own phones, because they needed them. Again, they were basic phones. No bells and whistles. It worked well for us.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

We allowed our son (age 14 now) to get a cell phone in 6th grade -- not a smart phone, but a cheap flip phone just for calling home. Then in 7th grade my husband gave him his old smart phone when he got a new one. If he breaks it he has to earn money to buy another used one (this has happened once). He mostly just uses it to listen to music walking to school or on car trips. He has a texting app he uses with his friends (that my husband and I both have as well). Yes, if he is not keeping up with homework or something he gets his phone taken away as a consequence. Our son is not into social media...he's just not interested...so we don't have to worry about that yet. I guess every kid is different, but our son really isn't all that into his phone and mostly just uses it for music. I like that I can text him or he can text me...he needs to reach me after school to ask something quite regularly.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

We got my son a gizmo watch. It wasn’t on his radar or ours, but when I went to replace my phone they offered it for free and it costs us all of $5 a month for the line. He can only call or text up to 10 approved numbers. It is strapped to his wrist like a watch and he has yet to lose it. He’s had it for a year. He just turned 8.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

What would he use it for? Besides proving to his friends that he has one?

I think kids who need rides or who are places where they need to reach their parents for other reasons have a greater need. But you're saying you drive to/pick up at school, so he's not on a bus or standing at a bus stop waiting for a bus that never comes. He doesn't need a ride when practice is over because you don't leave him there alone.

So, there are 2 things that stick out for me.

One is, do his friends call, and if so, is the only way for them to do that to call on your cell? (Since, like many of us, you know longer have a landline.) If they call, then what happens? Does your son want to go off into his room (understandably) for a private call (with the usual 10 year old goofiness) and does that leave you without a phone or the ability to answer your own incoming call? At what point do you want him to have this ability?

The second thing is, does he currently display the maturity necessary to use it properly and keep track of it? Does he currently lose his homework, his sneakers and his lunchbox? Does he respect that there are financial limits/budgets in other areas of family life, or is he whining every time you say no to a movie or a candy bar in the checkout line? If he's either a scatterbrain or a wiseacre with his mouth, then this might be a good time to say to him that you'll consider it after the first of the year. Sit him down in a calm moment and explain the ins & outs of a cell phone. Show him your bill, including all the extra charges - it's not just the monthly fee he sees on commercials, it's all the extra stuff. And show him the cost for a lost or damaged phone, or loss insurance. Explain to him that, if you're going to even think about taking on this financial burden, you're going to have to see him step up to the plate. Make a chore chart or whatever reminders you want, and figure out a deduction for the smart-mouth answers/retorts. If he can't hold his temper for 2 days, how can he hold on to a phone for a month, you know? If he expects you to drop everything and go pick up stuff he left at school or buy a new lunchbox because he lots his, or if your grocery bill goes up because he leaves the milk and yogurt on the table all day, then no, there's no money for a phone. If, however, he can help you cut expenses due to his wastefulness, then you might consider it. If he chooses not to take on the responsibilities of a reliable tween, then he's CHOOSING (important!) not to have a phone.

If he meets the challenge, you can give him a phone for Christmas in advance of the January 1 "we'll talk about it" date, but otherwise I wouldn't tie Christmas to the phone (at least not ahead of time). You want Christmas to be an enjoyable day, not one fraught with disappointment because he didn't get his phone. (BTW, for what it's worth, someone I know gave a phone for Christmas, and they called the number just as the person was tearing off the wrapping paper. It was really cute to have the present ringing!)


answers from San Francisco on

For us it was sixth grade, because that's when they started taking the bus and being more independent after school. We did however get our youngest a phone when she was in 5th grade because she was a competitive gymnast and gone a lot between school and dinner and we were part of a carpool for that.
I've always (and maybe more so now) considered a cell phone a tool, a part of modern life. I never treated it as something that had to be earned, though there were a few times I had to take it away during the teen years.
You can choose what features and limits you want him to have so beyond the extra cost it's really not that big of a deal.



answers from San Antonio on

I kinda fall under the he doesn't need it yet so it is really just a status symbol.

Both my kids got one when they started middle school (they had Gizmo watches for a year previous to a phone...to practice taking care of an electronic device and to be able to call or text when riding bikes or at a friend's house).

Middle school is tougher they suddenly change their plans to stay for after school tutoring or a club meeting. The teachers use apps for homework/quiz/test/material reminders. They are a very helpful device for the on the go middle school student. I didn't find they needed one before.



answers from Dallas on

My sons go a phone at 10 and 9. We didn't have a land line and that's how old they were when they started being home alone after school till someone would be home. They didn't even take them to school till they where in 6th grade because the oldest walked home in 6th grade and the youngest when he was in 6th grade stayed after school sometimes for choir. And occasionally walked home. My husband had a job that allowed him to pick the younger one up when he was in 6th grade. Their first 2 phones where not smart phones. But we didn't have smart phones at that time either.
I see nothing wrong with you getting him a phone as long as he can follow the rules that go along with having one. When my oldest was in middle school and early high school we would take him phone away as a punishment. That was what worked the best for him. The youngest we have not had to do that much. It's not that effective on him.



answers from Washington DC on

We got our son a phone when he turned 8. We also have no landline and in our state the age kids can stay home by themselves is 8 and he was going to be staying home by himself for just under an hour before school each day.
I personally don't understand the arbitrary age thing where a kid has to reach x age to get a cell phone. I say get it when you need it. If he doesn't need it and you don't want to get one than that's fine too. But I will be honest, when he's saying he's the only kid without a phone, he's probably right. Social media and cell phones all have pros and cons. For us I know a lot of sports related things are done with text chat groups so if he doesn't have a phone he is left out.
Also consider that the world is set up now with the expectation that pretty much everyone will have a cell phone. By that I mean, you can't find a payphone just anywhere anymore should he need to contact you. Do you really want him walking up to a stranger saying, can I borrow your phone?
With our son we also knew he'd be very careful with it. He wasn't the kid to lose his lunchbox twice a week or lose gloves or hat everyday. He also did know that a phone signified that he was growing up and there were certain expectations of him. They were clearly communicated and the phone would be lost if he didn't meet them consistently and if he had no phone it was back to before care which cost money so that meant no extra money for other things.
He's a jr in high school now and he's never had his phone privileges revoked. It was good for him.

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