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Children and Media

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When Should You Get Your Kid a Cell Phone?

By Liz Perle, Common Sense Media


What's the Right Age for a Cell Phone?

My daughter got her first cell phone in 7th grade (after much lobbying, whining, begging, and squabbling). Because she took public transportation home from school, my husband and I decided it was a good idea from a safety standpoint.

There were no texts, the phone couldn't take pictures, she was told how many minutes were allowed, and we did take it away from her as a punishment once (and it was very effective). Flash forward to the next child, four years her junior. He got a phone in 6th grade, mostly for the same reasons.

But technology had moved on, and his came with texting and photo ability, not to mention games. By then, our daughter had also become a text messaging ninja, and we'd upgraded our plan for unlimited texts (a very wise move) and replacement insurance (ditto).

Many parents wrestle with the issue of cell phones for kids. What's the right age for kids to get cell phones, and what functions are age appropriate? And what about smart phones with their abilities to download apps (not to mention their additional data plans!)?

These questions are best answered by asking other questions:

  • How independent are your kids?
  • Do your children "need" to be in touch for safety reasons — or social ones?
  • How responsible are they?
  • Can they get behind the concept of limits for minutes talked and apps downloaded?
  • Can they be trusted not to text during class, disturb others with their conversations, and to use the text, photo, and video functions responsibly (and not to embarrass or harass others)?
  • Do they really need a smart phone that is also their music device, a portable movie and game player, and portal to the Internet?
  • Do they need something that gives their location information to their friends — and maybe some strangers, too — as some of the new apps allow?
  • And do you want to add all the expense of new data plans? (Try keeping your temper when they announce that their new smart phone got dropped in the toilet...)

Just remember: When you hand kids phones today, you're giving them powerful communications and production tools. They can create text, images, and videos that can be widely distributed and uploaded to Web sites. They can broadcast their status and their location. They can download just about everything in the world. If you think your children's technological savvy is greater than their ability to use it wisely, pay attention to the gap. Times may have changed, but parenting hasn't. We're still the parents. And it's our job to say "no, not yet."

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