What Is a Good Time for a Child to Get a Cell Phone?

The freedom to have constant contact with friends is an intoxicating thing for a preteen. An even younger child might envy older kids who have their own cell phones and start begging for one before he's even entered middle school. Deciding a child is ready for the responsibility of having his own phone is a decision for each family to make, but all parents need to consider some factors before signing on the dotted line.

Age Guidelines

When he starts his argument for a phone with "Everyone else has one!" you can tell your child that he's not quite correct: the 2013 Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project found that 78 percent of children aged 12 to 17 owned cell phones. So while not every kid has his own cell number, by middle school your child will probably be in the minority without his own phone. According to HealthyChildren.org, the middle school years are when cell phone use begins in earnest 1. Unless your child has special circumstances that make a phone a necessity, he shouldn't have any pressing need for one before he's 11 or 12 years old.

Factors to Consider

If yours is a child of separated parents and moves back and forth between houses, he might be comforted by having a cell phone while he's in elementary school. With the push of a speed-dial button, he can easily connect with one parent while staying with the other. A child who spends time home alone will also benefit from having a cell phone in an emergency, since he can reach a working parent in seconds instead of having to navigate a land line. A child might also be trusted with a phone earlier than his peers are if he has a life-threatening medical condition. With his own phone, he can call for help immediately when necessary, suggests HealthyChildren.org. Another factor worth considering is his personal responsibility. If he can't go more than a day without losing something, he might not be ready for his own phone until high school.

Buying the First Phone

Once you've made the big announcement -- he'll soon be the proud owner of his first phone -- he'll hopefully be so thrilled he'll happily accept whatever phone you deem appropriate. While smartphones are popular, he doesn't need a hugely pricey phone with Internet access right away. When you go comparison shopping, research each carrier's parental control and children's phone options. For instance, for a monthly fee, certain carriers allow parents to limit the number of texts a child sends and set time limits so the phone can't be used during certain hours. Before he makes his first call, sit down for a talk about rules. Talk about how many minutes and texts he's allowed to use, what consequence he'll face for going over and what happens if he breaks or loses his phone. Remind him of his school's phone policy and establish a nightly phone curfew.

Phone Safety

With his limited worldview, your young child doesn't yet have the experience he needs to keep himself safe. Talk to him about the dangers of sexting, or sending and receiving sexually suggestive messages, and ask him not to say anything in a text he wouldn't say to a person's face. Explain that sent messages can't ever be fully erased. If his phone can access the Internet, set up parental controls to block his access to inappropriate sites. He won't like being monitored, but explain that you'll be checking his phone intermittently to make sure he's being safe. It's also never too early to talk about driving and cell phones. Though his driver's license may be years away, talk now about how dangerous and illegal it is to text or call while driving a car.