What age is right for your child’s first cell phone?

17 March 2017

What age is right for your child’s first phone?

How old is old enough to have the world in the palm of your hand? That’s the question for many parents who must decide what age is right for a child to own a cellphone. Nearly six out of 10 parents of children between the ages of 8 and 12 have given their children cell phones, according to a survey by ORC International for the National Consumers League (NCL). 

With this great power—access to internet, social media and more—comes great responsibility. And unfortunately, there's no magic age that declares readiness. “I don’t think there’s any right time for a child to get a cell phone,” said John Breyault of NCL. “Parents should decide for themselves whether their child is ready for the responsibility of a cell phone.”

There may not be an easy number to tell us when our kids are cellphone-ready,  but we put together a list of considerations to help make your decision a little easier. 

Your child is likely to be cellphone ready if he is RESPONSIBLE. 

Have you already spent a small fortune replacing those expensive BPA-free water bottles because your son keeps losing them? If so, chances are if he can’t keep track of his present belongings, he won’t be any better with a cell phone…no matter how many times he tells you it’ll be different. Sorry, bud, it probably won’t.  

Another thing to consider is how well he takes care of his things.  A cell phone case can only do so much if your son treats his backpack like a Frisbee. Most phone manufacturer warranties cover only mechanical issues and not the more likely bumps and bruises of typical cell phone accidents like water damage and cracked screens.

WhistleOut Tip: Be sure that your child's phone is password protected. If it gets lost or falls into the wrong hands, your child's information will be safe. To lock the phone, for Android operating system simply go to the phone's settings. Choose the Security option and then the Screen lock feature. For iPhones, go to the phone's settings and then choose the Passcode option.

If you don’t want to worry (too much) about your child breaking (or destroying) a cellphone, consider these 3 things: 

1. Purchasing cell phone insurance
If Johnny drops the cell phone into the toilet, especially if was an expensive model, you may wish you were covered. In general cell phone insurance usually covers accidental damage like water damage and cracked screens, mechanical issues (helpful if the device’s warrante period has expired) and the loss and theft of phone. However, if your child’s phone is an inexpensive model, it may not be worth the insurance fees. To find out more specifics on cell phone insurance, check out our guide

2. Getting a curiously strong device case
Consider also purchasing a curiously strong phone case to makes a phone more kid-proof. Some phone cases on the market claim to be impervious to the effects of Hummers, rain storms and teething babies --  and have the video footage to prove it. Also, a cool phone case is an affordable way to make an inexpensive smartphone look seriously legit in the hallways of middle school. 
3. Buying an inexpensive cellphone
If you wouldn’t give a 16- year old the keys to your sport car, then it’s probably not a good idea to hand over a $700 cell phone to your kid, especially if it’s her first one. A great way to test the waters is to buy an inexpensive first model. That way, if it gets left on the bus on the way home from school, it’s not that big of a loss. There are plenty of new phones that are inexpensive but still look cool enough to give you child some street cred. Some barebone models only have the function of texting and calling. The lack-of-internet may bum out the kids out, but… it  also makes the whole parental worry about internet safety go away.  Poof! Just like that.  Consider these affordable options:

LG X Power Plans

LG X Power
Carrier Inclusions  
  • 1GB of High Speed Data Plan
  • 1GB Full Speed Data
  • Outright
  • $30/mo + $39.99 Upfront

LG Tribute HD Plans

LG Tribute HD
Carrier Inclusions  
  • 200 Monthly Minutes & Unlimited Texts
  • No Data Included
  • Outright
  • $9/mo + $94 Upfront
Your child is likely to be cellphone ready if he is able to FOCUS

Did Pokémon GO have your kids bumping into walls? When it comes to play, most kids have laser beam focus.  However, walking to school while playing Mindcraft on the phone probably isn’t the best idea…riding a bike, even worse.  Toss in a busy intersection and the picture isn’t pretty. Your child should understand when and where her cell phone is appropriate to use.  Also consider your child’s school policy on cell phone use.  

WhistleOut Tip: Many cell phones come with parental controls that can limit usage and third-party parental software can also restrict cell phone usage hours and app usage.

Your child is likely to be cellphone ready if he is MATURE

Does your child really get FOREVER… and ever? Because that’s how long anything he posts online lasts. The internet is cruel that way, it never forgets, and it never gives anything back. And if that one didn’t scare you enough, consider this one on for size: what can be seen cannot be unseen. 

Kid brain + camera + texting + the world wide web = careful parent supervision.

Therefore, consider your own time and technological savvy. Do you have the extra time to research parental control software? If you’re not sure what a browser is or if Facebook runs on the internet, don’t feel bad. Just spend some time getting up to speed on technology before introducing it to your children.   

Your child is likely to be cellphone ready if he is RESPECTFUL OF HOUSE RULES

Is your child heading off to bed on time? If she is currently respecting the house rules, then she’s more likely to obey the guidelines you set up for her cell phone usage. But if home looks more like the wild west, wait until your child’s listening skills are up to par before you introduce a phone and chances are that when you tell her to get off the phone, she will. 

Creating a family cell phone contract. Your daughter may think spending every waking moment on Facebook is reasonable internet usage so it’s probably a good idea to nail out the specifics before you purchase the phone. Use this sample contract from SafeKids or gather the family into the living room  and come up with your own. The best rules are ones that you come up with together and suit the needs of your own family.

Who does the phone really belong you? A leasing option. Something else to think about before you give a phone to your child is to consider who does the phone really belong you? Is it yours or your child’s? Some parents treat it as more as a leasing option. If the kids do certain chores, they are in a sense paying for the use of your phone. 

Establishing it as your property may seem a bit harsh, but it can help establish your authority to set guidelines. If he knows that you will be checking over his shoulder then he may pause before he sends that text. If it’s not something he wants his parents to know about, then it’s probably not something he should be sending out into the ether of the internet. 

Whenever you feel that you're child is ready, know that you will have plenty of cell phones options and plans to consider. Our comparison guide can help you pick the right options and cell phone plans for your family. 

Original image credit: Flickr user Mravcolv

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