Does Your Middle Schooler Really Need a Cellphone? What’s the Right Age to Give Our Kids a Phone?

By Holly Goodman

The first time I saw one of my kids’ friends with his own cellphone, my older daughter was in second or third grade. Her friend’s parents had split. He had a flip phone with a slide out keyboard to call or text either parent directly without having to go through the other.

A few years later when my kids’ dad and I separated, we gave our older daughter an old phone of ours for the same reason. My calling him to talk to them drove him nuts. My daughter was 10 and it was a tool.

It made sense. Back in the days of landlines, phones were communal. You called house-to-house, not person-to-person. We’d dropped our landline long before our kids were born.

Even pre-split, my girls were also starting to stay home alone. The phone was a matter of safety and peace of mind.

Was my daughter ready for phone ownership? Not at all. I know this for sure because two years later, her phone is still MIA about half the time.

But, these are the choices we have to make.

Most kids beg for a phone before they hit middle school.

And many phones are about so much more than conversation. They are powerful tools, two-way portals to the entire world. I even wrote this post on my cell phone, two thumbs at a time. It does everything my computer does. Plus it can broadcast my location. That’s a lot to think about.

How much access do we want our kids to have, and how easily do we want the world at large to access them?

Does a middle schooler need a smart phone? (Probably not.)

Do middle schoolers need to carry a phone at all? (Probably not.)

Remember the way you roamed free? There were emergencies before constant connection became a way of life, and here we all are. We made it.

Are we going to give our kids phones? Yes, by middle school many of us will.

How we do it and how much access we give them is up to us.

The thing is, none of these are new questions. Look past the technology. What we are talking about is setting boundaries, entering new territory thoughtfully, trusting our kids to do the right thing and understanding that sometimes they won’t.

We’re teaching them to be respectful.

Giving then enough freedom to figure it out on their own.


Things to Consider When Contemplating Buying Your Child a Cellphone:

  • Does your kiddo need to carry a cell or would it be better to add a phone to your account that stays plugged in and operates like a landline for your house?
  • Should you start with a prepaid phone with limited minutes and restricted function?
  • Will you allow your middle schooler to take it to school, where it can be distracting?
  • Will you let her to keep it in her bedroom where she can stay up texting long after you’ve gone to sleep? (And if she does, is it really much different than the all night BS sessions you had while your parents slept?)
  • How do you find the balance between monitoring your middle schooler’s activity and honoring his privacy?
  • When she starts driving, how do you help her understand the gravity of texting at the wheel?

Photo credit: Getty Images

More from Holly Goodman

How to Connect with Your Older Kids Through Books

Summer is Long, Pace Yourself: How to Survive Your Tween’s Summer Vacation

On Kids’ and Independence: Are We Parenting to Our Kids’ Past Instead of Our Present?

About the Author

Based in Portland, Ore., Holly Goodman began writing professionally in 1991. Her articles have appeared in "The Oregonian," "Dog Fancy," "High Times," First Wives World and on, among other publications. Her fiction has appeared in "The Journal" and at Literary Mama. Goodman has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from The Ohio State University.