Is Your Kid Ready for a Cell Phone? A Parental Primer

Filed under: Gadgets, Tween Culture, Teen Culture, Development: Big Kids, Expert Advice: Big Kids, Development: Tweens, Expert Advice: Tweens

Are you ready for your kid to have a phone? Credit: Corbis

In the olden days, children asked their parents for a car. Today, the more common request is for a cell phone.

The question is also being asked much earlier, and more often. A study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 51 percent of 12-year-olds were cell phone owners in 2008, compared to 18 percent in 2004.

The desire for a phone of one's own can occur much younger, sometimes as early as third grade, although most kids get connected in fifth or sixth grade, says Anne Collier, co-director of ConnectSafely.org.

"Children become very social creatures around middle school," she tells ParentDish, and the desire for a phone is often tied to an interest in online social networking.

That means texting, and a lot of it.

"The average kid sends and receives over 2,000 text messages a month," Collier says.
So, it may be best to bite the bullet and get an unlimited text messaging plan. These plans are not cheap (around $100 a month), but you may be able to add your offspring to your own bill for a nominal fee. Just remember the story of teenager Reina Hardesty, who reportedly sent 14,258 text messages in one month. Luckily, her father had an unlimited plan.

Web sites such as MyRatePlan and CNet have tools that allows consumers to compare plans from a variety of wireless carriers. (If you need help decoding the jargon that cell phone providers routinely throw around, check out this guide from AOL Coach Mary Hunt.)

But what kind of phone should you get for your child?

"Kids are not very interested in phones that look like toys," Collier says. So, while "kid-friendly" phones such as the Firefly may sound appealing in theory, in practice they aren't what your child wants. "The phones that they want are the phones that do the things that they and their friends want to do."

In the end, parents need to be sure their children are ready for the responsibility that comes with owning a cell phone.

"Every parent has to establish rules for technology use," Collier says.

For example, when they come home, tell them they have to keep the phone off until they finish their homework, Collier says. Or have them charge the phone in your room at night -- that way they won't be tempted to text their friends when they're supposed to be sleeping.

"A kid is probably ready for a phone if he or she is ready to follow those rules," she says.

As for parents being ready? That one you'll have to figure out for yourself.

Related:
Number of Kids with Cell Phones Nearly Doubles Since 2005

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.