Parents of today wrestle with a tough question parents of previous generations never even considered: What is the right age for a child to get a cell phone? To come to a decision, parents have to ponder a number of considerations, including the following:
Adding a cell phone to your plan could be as simple as picking up a free flip phone and paying to add a contract to your existing plan, or as complex as selecting a smartphone, choosing a payment plan, paying for a new contract and adding or increasing your existing data plan.
A recent report says the average monthly cell phone bill is $73. Each additional phone could cost anywhere from $10 to $50 or more, depending on whether you pay for it up front out of pocket or by installment. Of course, if you get a smart phone you'll probably start paying for additional apps and games as well. If your child downloads apps on his or her own, you'll want to review and monitor those apps to be sure they are age-appropriate for your child.
You don't have to spend much time surfing the web to realize there's a lot out there you don't want kids looking at. Even popular social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram can give your kids access to questionable material if they aren't mature enough to know how to use their phones responsibly.
Conversely, cell phones can offer a family peace of mind if a child must take public transportation somewhere, walk home from school, or if they play frequently at friends' houses.
Parents who decide a cell phone is necessary based on their child's maturity and life circumstances may also find peace of mind by utilizing a child safety app which tracks what sites their child is visiting on his or her phone, monitors social media use, acts as a pornography blocker and internet filter, and works as a phone locator.
Cell phones allow kids to keep in touch with friends and family, but they can also pose as a hindrance if kids become too dependent on them for social interactions. Some school districts are finding ways to integrate mobile device usage into their curriculum, but phones can also hamper educational success by posing as distractions to school work.
The risk for cyber bullying is another important factor to consider. Nobullying.com says, "One in 10 adolescents or teens have had embarrassing or damaging pictures taken of themselves without their permission, often using cell phones," and, "Over 25 percent of teens been bullied repeatedly through text messages." This is another reason child safety apps are so popular among parents, as these apps search for bullying-related language and will notify you when problems arise.
Asking the right questions
Because the right age for a cell phone can vary so widely with each child, pbs.org suggests parents ask themselves these questions before taking the cell phone step with their kids:
- How independent are your children?
- Do they need to be in touch with you for safety reasons?
- How responsible are your kids?
- Can your kids be trusted not to use their phone during class?
- Is a smart phone necessary, or would a phone without data work for them?
- Are you prepared to add the expense of a new data plan to your budget?
John Breyault, vice president of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud at the National Consumers League and a cbsnews.com correspondent, says that while all parents must make their own decisions for their family, a common age for kids to receive their own cell phones is around 13 or 14.
"This is an age group where they are doing a lot of activities outside the home, things like sports practices, after-school activities, going over to friends' houses," Breyault explained. "So most parents we surveyed said they were getting the phone so the kids could stay in touch with them."
When the time comes for your kids to get cell phones of their own, make sure they're using them appropriately and safely with WebSafety. Get reports on your child's activity without being intrusive and feel secure in knowing your family is enjoying the best protection available at any age you may decide to give your child a cell phone.