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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