When Should You Give Your Teenager Their First Cell Phone?

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At this point in our shared history, cell phones have become indispensable. Not only have they become the go-to way to keep in touch with each other, today’s smartphones are robust enough to use in a business context. They’re essentially tiny computers that we carry around in our pockets, without the need to spend a chunk of time having to learn how to navigate a potentially complex operating system. You turn them on, and with a few key presses, you’re ready to go.

Smartphones like the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S III are very hot right now; everybody wants one. This includes your teenager, who will insist that he won’t last the week without getting one, that all his friends have one — and you don’t want him to be uncool, do you?

Well, whether or not you’re concerned with your kid’s social standing, it can be a good idea for your teen to have his own phone.

Why does a teen need a cell phone?

One of the main reasons parents should give their kids a cell phone is so they can know where they are at any time — if not their actual location, at least to know that they’re okay. If he can answer his phone, he’s fine. For the most part, this will be a consideration of your teen’s readiness and maturity level. If your child is old enough (and this varies by family) to go places with his friends unchaperoned, then he should probably have a cell phone of his own.

What goes along with that is your child’s responsibility to be available to answer the phone at all times. You will need to make that rule very clear and inarguable. If he is unwilling to be “on call” at all times, then he shouldn’t have a cell phone.

It could be argued that there is an issue of trust at stake. Your kid will likely say, “Don’t you trust me? I’m not going to be doing anything I shouldn’t, and it’s embarrassing to have to talk to my parents when I’m with my friends.” However, that argument works both ways. If he is trustworthy and understands your concerns, he won’t mind answering the phone every time.

A good compromise is to make it a rule to respond by text, if not by voice. That way, his friends needn’t listen in on a potentially ridicule-causing phone call. If you are of a particularly paranoid bent, create a password for the two of you to use that will confirm your child’s identity. You’ll know that it’s really him answering, and not a friend on lookout duty while he’s busy getting into shenanigans.

App overload

Another consideration is your child’s ability to moderate his own phone usage. The potential for going over monthly usage allowances is fairly high with teens. It’s fun to talk and text with friends, but depending upon your carrier’s plan, too much of either can result in onerous bills.

Have a talk with your teen before adding a new phone to your existing plan to hammer out the details of what his usage time allows each month. This will be a good test of your kid’s growing maturity and ability to manage responsibility.

This applies to apps, as well. It’s easy for your teen to see a lot of fun-looking applications and games and want to download them all — they’re cheap! Even the sub-$1 apps will add up if unchecked, however, and your teen shouldn’t think of the phone as an endless supply of diversions. These limits should be discussed and adhered to well before the phone ever touches your kid’s eager hands.

Smartphone or standard?

Keep in mind that just because you may own an iPhone, Windows Phone, or Android device, that doesn’t mean that your child has to have one as well. If the main reason he wants a phone is for communication, then any cell phone will do.

However, these days, the selection of educational apps can make owning a smartphone a very attractive option. Some phone families also feature useful interoperability, like the FaceTime feature for iPhones.

Also, remember that GPS tracking is a two-way street. You may want to keep it enabled to make it easier to keep tabs on your child’s whereabouts. Keeping GPS enabled also includes the potential for him to give away his location with the use of apps that include that information as part of a status message or as metadata in photos. If this is a concern, make sure you know how to turn location services off on your child’s phone.

Making the call

Giving your kid a first cell phone can be fun for the both of you and a good way to teach your child some new responsibility. Sit down and have a conversation about what you both want from the experience, then go bond together over shopping for that new phone.

This article was written by Akela Talamasca and originally appeared on Tecca.

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26 comments
ignacio_mobincube
ignacio_mobincube

In Spain, children wear a Blackberry device since they are 11 years old. They use it mostly for chatting with friends, and they prefer Blackberry because the blackberry push service is much cheaper than a mobile Internet flat rate.

Smith Warnes
Smith Warnes

Nice article. It’s very important that both the parent and

the child understand each other’s sentiments. It’s ok to give a cell phone to

your child but here age factor counts. If you think your child is responsible enough

and really needs as cell phone then he should get one which suits his interest

as well. It is necessary that the child understands the true purpose of using

the cell phone and does not consider it only for social status. On the other

hand the parents should not be too strict otherwise children really go their

own way trying to do what they are told not to do. Just relax and give a phone

that will make you and your child both feeling secured, happy and connected as

well…!!

 

samiam1212
samiam1212

Everyone just needs to calm down. Know your kid. If you trust your kid, give him/her a cell phone. If you don't know your child well enough to know whether or not she can handle a cell phone without tons of restrictions, you aren't being a very good parent. The main issue here is trust.

Richard_im_Himmel_bei_Gott
Richard_im_Himmel_bei_Gott

Evidently Time has nothing to write about.  And, unfortunately, it evidently has no writers who can write when the IS something to write about.

I have no intention of giving my kids cell phones.  They can get a job and earn the money and buy them for themselves.

worth_every_cent
worth_every_cent

My rule still is the same as my parents, the child calls the parent, always, no excuses accepted. When to call is discretionary, use appropriate etiquette for the situation.

Having a personal cell also obligates said teen to manage their own schedule. It is not for summoning assistance or dodging inconvenience because a "scheduled" ride is too early / too late for the next engagement / activity.

Independence is the operative word here. Cell phones are part of the big picture, everything in the big picture is a trade-off. Manage it wisely, and the cost is minimal / undetectable. Screw up, and you spend spring break at the local in-door pool.

Cathrina Chanel Chang
Cathrina Chanel Chang

it doesn't say "when" it just says "why" should u get your teen a cellphone...what a misleading topic....

samiam1212
samiam1212

This is completely ridiculous. No doubt targeted towards the helicopter parents that control every aspect of their children's lives. I'm not going to have my volume on loud every minute of my life, and I will miss some of my mom's phone calls. And when I'm busy, I will ignore her calls as well. If she's really worried, she could text me or if she really needs me to call her, she could text me something like '911, CALL ASAP'. 

I'm old enough now that I can make my own decisions. My mom realizes that and she always says, "There's a point where you need to stop dictating your child's decisions and just trust they'll make the right ones."  Teenagers should have cell phones. They come in handy for when they need rides to or from things like school functions or extracurricular activities. And they are good to have in case a child does get into a bad situation. And really, they're getting to the age when they need to start controlling their own lives. If your teenager wants a cell phone, let them get one or let them buy one on their own.

People are always putting down the opinions of teenagers because they believe in the stereotype that we are all stupid, selfish and reckless. Well, that's not true for most of us. And by watching and controlling my every move, they aren't making me less likely to act out and be rebellious. It's making me more likely to do that, because I feel so trapped. If the parents don't make it a big deal, it won't feel like a big deal to me. So I just won't do it.

Parents need to find a comfortable medium between giving their child freedom, and making decisions for them.

EmmPatenaude19
EmmPatenaude19

I believe that the idea that whenever my parents call i must answer should work both ways as well. I am 14 and too often I call my parents and they don't answer their phones. Also, that idea is incredibly unrealistic. If my parents call and I'm doing something important, the chances of me stopping to answer their call are slim, in addition to the fact that smart phones, with all of their apps and background programs, have a very short battery life and die quickly. I find most of this argument invalid. If you are a parent and your child is a teenager, get them a cell phone. It comes in handy if your kid ever has to stay after school but doesn't have time to call you, or doesn't have their father's, mother's, both of their work, and their home phone numbers memorized (I don't). Besides, even if you don't trust them, that's an even better reason to get them one, even if its not a good one.

weblizard
weblizard

Just so I understand here- you expect your parents, who I'm guessing work to pay for your phone and other privileges, are expected to drop everything to answer your call, but what *you* are doing is too important to be interrupted?

There's a few priorities I'd straighten out before handing you a phone...

EmmPatenaude19
EmmPatenaude19

I'm saying that if they expect me to drop everything, then they should be expected to as well. I however, did not ask for your rudeness. If you want a world with no cell phones, maybe you should go live in that footloose town with no music, too.

Sam Trutna
Sam Trutna

 You're making the mistake of thinking that humans are truly unique. I know 14 years olds, I was one once and there are plenty of them around to witness. The number that are capable of managing their own lives without significant outside assistance is incredibly low. Betting odd are that you are not one of them.

"I believe that the idea that whenever my parents call i must answer should work both ways as well"

Directly conflicts with

"my parents trust my judgment and if it is not an emergency, will often

not care whatsoever whether I answer a call as long as I do

not purposefully 'ignore' the call."

If you had said the second the first time, I wouldn't be speaking to you. That's perfectly reasonable. The first one comes off as hubris of a sort.

Sam Trutna
Sam Trutna

Yes, at sixteen. That girl is 14, so she's probably doing considerably fewer prep classes. Also notice that all of those are classes/school. Your parents won't really need to call you during that time since they know exactly where you are and exactly what you're doing.

EmmPatenaude19
EmmPatenaude19

Also, I do not think it is fair that, you, a complete stranger with no knowledge of me or my life at all, is judging me on my ability to manage my own life, which I do, and I do very well. I can think of many good reasons why I would be unable to answer their call, some as simple as just not hearing it ring, which happens very often, others such as having a conversation with an elder person which you should not interrupt. In most of these situations i would not take a call from anyone unless I got multiple phone calls or a "911 text." Furthermore, my parents trust my judgment and if it is not an emergency, will often not care whatsoever whether I answer a call as long as I do not purposefully 'ignore' the call. (Where you make it stop ringing, sending them to voice-mail, essentially hanging up on the caller)

samiam1212
samiam1212

I'm sixteen and I have a lot of things that keep me from answering phone calls. After school make up tests, SAT prep, NYS regents review classes,  dance classes. None of those things am I allowed to answer my cell phone in. Thankfully, my mom is realistic and trusts me. If she really needs me to call her. She'll call twice and I'll get the message and answer the second time.

Sam Trutna
Sam Trutna

 His point is that your parents are adults capable of running their own lives on top of managing yours. You are a child barely capable of managing your own life. At 14, what exactly are you doing that is *so* important that you can't answer a call from  your parents?

IrishWonder
IrishWonder

 Not a good idea to rely on your phone for memorizing your parents' phone numbers - what if your phone battery dies and you absolutely need to make a call? I was in that situation and it made me learn my important numbers really fast.

EmmPatenaude19
EmmPatenaude19

I don't know their cell phones because they are relatively new for them, however, i know the majority of my family/extended family so I have never had that problem. That's not really my point though...

Mgon ♥
Mgon ♥

Teenager?  Hello.  8-year-olds have cell phones these days. 

weblizard
weblizard

Not in my family.

Who gives a child that young a phone, except for latchkey households? I wouldn't think that many people were free-ranging their kids...

EmmPatenaude19
EmmPatenaude19

Giving them a cell phone at a young age, as most parents do, is actually a very good idea. It teaches them responsibility, and gives them (and you) extra assurance that in an emergency, they could contact you or police, ambulance.. etc

samiam1212
samiam1212

Actually he/she's right. Lot's of young kids have cell phones. Not fancy ones, but standard. My four year old cousin can work my Droid 4 perfectly. I got my first phone when I was ten. Open your eyes. 

Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

A stranger can type "I'm okay" on your kid's phone. Make voice contact.

Sam Trutna
Sam Trutna

 safe words, sign and countersign

weblizard
weblizard

I don't understand that part of the article- can't the kid just tell his/her friend on lookout what the password is? 

In the case of something horrible, yes, it can signal a stranger has the phone, unless the psw has been coerced out of the child.

samiam1212
samiam1212

You need to calm down. It's a cell phone and you're thinking way too much about it. My parents trust me. They handed me a phone, told me to use it for emergencies or if they needed me. I was allowed to use it for other purposes such as texting as well, long as I didn't go over my data/messaging/call limit. When I did go over my limit, I payed the extra fee for it.