The Ideal Age For a First Cell Phone

I’ve been getting so many thought-provoking questions from readers this summer, including a very short one that came in last week: I am a longtime reader of your blog and wanted to know, what age did your kids get a phone? — Michelle

I have a few thoughts on this topic, but I’m especially interested in hearing how you’ve handled this at your house. I really believe this is an area where we all need to share what we’ve learned so far. So I hope you’ll chime in. Here are my thoughts.

1) Our 3 youngest kids, currently aged 12, 11 and 7, don’t have cell phones. They have access to screens — the family iPad, the family desktop iMac — but they don’t have their own phones, or even iPods. At one point, our son Oscar was set to inherit a hand-me-down phone that he could use as an iPod, but it ended up being old and faulty and didn’t really work out.

Our 3 oldest kids, currently aged 15, 18 and 19, all received their first phone during high school. When we moved from France to Oakland, Ralph started his sophomore of high school, and Maude started her freshman year, and they both got their first official cell phones as the school year started. In France, we had experimented with some basic flip-phones for them to use in emergencies, but their first real data phones didn’t happen till we moved back to the States.

Apparently, that makes us somewhat unusual. Surveys show that back in 2010, 69% of 11-14 year olds, and 31% of kids aged 8-10 had cell phones. I assume the numbers are even higher these days. But, I don’t think it’s as strange as the statistics makes it sound. I feel like we know many families here, with kids in middle school, who don’t give their kids cell phones yet.

2) Even though I’m listing it second, my first thought whenever this topic comes up is that: No one can realistically have a good answer yet. Meaning, we have no models of what’s proven to work and what’s harmful. The iPhone just turned 10 years old a couple of weeks ago. This whole smart phone culture is still so new that good research doesn’t exist yet on what the long-term benefits or problems are.

Sure, there are new articles written all the time, lamenting the use of phones (or screens in general) for kids. But a lot of the conclusions are still guesswork at this point.

I bring this up for two reasons. One, don’t expect to get it right. Our kids are a giant experiment. The way we as a generation of parents are approaching screens might be awesome, or it might be horrible, and it’s likely somewhere in the middle. But instead of despairing, take heart, because we’re all in this together and whatever problems do come up, we’re not going to be alone in tackling them. Which brings up reason number two. We need to share what we are learning. When we find a new rule or policy that works, we need to tell people about it. When we get it wrong and a plan backfires, we need to tell people about it. We need to learn from each other.

3) Related to what I just mentioned, the landscape of cell phones is still changing. I remember going to a community meeting for parents about 9 or 10 years ago when we lived in New York. A police officer gave a talk about keeping our kids safe said it was a no -brainer: a cell phone made kids safer and we should all give cell phones to our teens. Would he still agree with this advice a decade later? Do the negative cell-phone stories that make the news (often featuring predators and bullies) outweigh the convenience of knowing where your kids are via texting?

4) From a parenting angle, once you’ve chosen a phone for your kids that works with your family budget, you may soon discover that the management of the phone is harder than deciding what age is appropriate. Are you willing and available to take the phone away each night and remove that temptation? How do you want to handle privacy for your kids? Are you going to read their texts? Look at their photos? (Personally, I would recommend YES to both of these things.) Will you be monitoring what they post on their social media accounts? Do you have time to follow the Instagram accounts that are following your kid?

Making sure your kids aren’t getting into trouble with their phone — even accidentally — can feel overwhelming.

5) When a child should be given a cell phone really ends up being a personal decision based on all sorts of factors that may or may not apply to my life. For some kids, a phone may be the closest thing to a laptop or desktop they have access to — their phone may be a key resource and educational tool. Other kids may need a phone to safely access transportation (like Uber or a bus schedule). For many families, a phone for their kids may be out of the question budget-wise. Not just buying the phone, but the added cost of another data line too. All that to say: what works for you may not work for your neighbor.

Now I’d love to hear: What has worked for your family so far? Have you set any guidelines or rules about what age you like to give a first phone that have turned out to be reliable? For those who have older kids, would you do it the same way again? If not, what would you advise a younger parent? What are your worries about kids and cell phones? Have they proven to come true? And how old were you when you got your own first cell phone? Do you remember?

P.S. — How to properly clean your tech. And a fun budgeting game for teens.

98 thoughts on “The Ideal Age For a First Cell Phone”

  1. Oh, gosh. We were just discussing this with the parents on our block this week! We have 30+ kids on our block with quite a range of ages from newborn to high school (and one just finished freshman year of college). The advice of the parents with older kids – wait as long as possible, until high school if you can.

    The parents who gave the phones to the kids early generally lamented it. The kids have an expectation of a phone, and have difficulty giving it up. And, the easy access to the unfiltered internet means their kids had exposure to unfortunate media. Waiting until high school makes sense – when kids have the responsibility of getting to/from school and other activities and might need a phone.

    The fact that we live in an urban setting, that young kids are generally monitored (even when given freedom), and can obtain assistance when needed from neighbors, teachers and family, means the phones are not really necessary . And, as far as I know, unlike most tablets, phones don’t have “kid settings” which limit the types of things that can be viewed on the internet. Some media can be quite disturbing. My now 10-year old reported that several of his 4th grade classmates had smart phones this past year, and at least one of them used his during bus time to watch very disturbing videos posted on YouTube (violent, visceral, bloody with real people). That was an interesting talk I wish I didn’t have to have with the school and the parent . . .

    In any case, we have decided to wait. The neighborhood block is the best place for our kids to communicate and interact with each other – not the virtual and digital world. I think they will be fine.

    1. Elizabeth Anne Davis

      Our 13 year old has had a phone for a year now, and we have Net Nanny on it. He can’t access the internet without us entering a passcode. I think you can change Net Nanny to allow access but block adult content sites (I know you can do that on PCs).

      1. Net Nanny – that’s definitely something to consider. I would feel better about access if I had more control.

        Also, I imagine that parental monitoring apps/technology will improve between now and when my son is old enough for his first phone. 3 years is a long time in the tech world!

  2. I am interested to hear the responses. My kids aren’t school age yet but my toddler knows how to navigate her way around YouTube (without knowing how to read or write!). I hate how children’s videos are often tagged with adult content ads. I am trying the YouTube for kids app now (but I need to hide the real app inside my phone so she can’t find it!) to see if this will be a better solution.

    1. My kids love Youtube Kids… maybe a little too much. They would watch it all day if I let them. Now they are only allowed to watch on the weekends when we have downtime. I would recommend it, especially if your daughter loves Youtube. You don’t have to worry about adult content ads at all!

  3. We gave our oldest a flip phone when he turned 14, but found that it couldn’t keep up with texts (group texts, pictures, etc.) and so we got him a smart phone when he turned 15. However, we set the settings so that he cannot access the internet or any social media without having a parent put in a pass code. He has unlimited talk and text and he turns his phone in to us every night. So far, it’s working pretty well. I don’t feel I have the time or energy to monitor all that is available online. We have a 13-year-old daughter who does not have a phone, but I think we may get her one soon. We no longer have a landline and if she’s home alone, she doesn’t have access to a phone–something I’m not comfortable with.

    1. I would be interested in knowing how to set a phone up like you have – password access only to internet.

  4. My oldest is 11 and starting middle school in the fall. She has expressed many times her embarrassment that she’s the only one without a smart phone. It’s a slight exaggeration, but not by much. Even the school principal stated that 70% of his middle school students have smartphones.

    We however, are waiting. Our daughter has no reason for a phone. She has access to a family tablet and laptop at home. There is a phone available at the school if she needs to get a hold of someone.

    I do feel bad for her sense of embarrassment. We’re also “that family” who won’t allow our kids to purchase fidget spinners. But honestly, she has no reason to have it. It would only temp her to use it during school hours when she should be concentrating on her classes – not her phone.
    I firmly believe that it’s okay for kids to be bored.

      1. At our middle school, the kids are expected to have phones and they look things up on them-for research or information. I think it’s ridiculous. My 13 year old said half the kids are just looking at youtube videos rather than doing school work on them. When he started middle school we got him a smart phone-it’s an android from Amazon. We don’t do i-phones until high school-and we just pass them down the line.

      2. In my opinion, kids are using fidget spinners when they shouldn’t be. I think my kids can find other uses for their hands. Now that’s it’s summer vacation, they haven’t asked for one once.

        1. Thanks for sharing! Luckily, this seems to be a fairly short-lived trend. I have to admit, I thought they were fun and such a nice change of pace as trends go (cheap, non-electronic, easy to find).

    1. This is a late comment, but we conceded to a phone for our 13 year old daughter when she started middle school because she really was in the minority and was very much struggling with that. Our story is not everyone’s, but worst case scenarios did happen, and she fell prey to predators on Instagram (which I thought I were closely monitoring!). We did all the “safe” things . . . Contracts, turning it in, random checks . . . But it boiled down to the fact that there are very real dangers of a smart phone, and our daughter can’t un-see, un-feel, or un-know the things that happened in the short months she had her phone.

      I learned that we are not alone in these horrible experiences that stop short of being on the news, but since they are painful and private, they don’t get shared. Frankly, even when we do choose to share, others tend to (out of need, i think) blame either us for not monitoring better, or her as being a bad and/or wild irresponsible kid. The truth is, we all tried, and a couple of questionable choices by a 13 year old (straight A, honor student) led down a steep road.

      If I could go back? We’d never choose to do something that I felt held danger but that we should be ok as so many others seemingly were fine. We’ve purposely kept a landline, and now everyone will only get a flip phone during high school (which is actually on the advice of the police woman who helped with our case — she obviously only sees when things go wrong, but she knows the odds of when that happens and it’s not good). So while it’s hard to be “that mom” in not giving our kids what they think everyone else has, it’s better than being “that mom” trying to help her daughter heal. Plus, having said no and talked about why allowed my kids to just move on for the most part! They do find other things to do! It’s actually been quite a weeding out of friends as kids who are really scornful of them not having a phone are naturally replaced with more accepting ones! Or ones not obsessed with communicating only through Snapchat.

      Boy do I sound heavy! Sorry!

  5. Great post – I like the way you presented it rather than take a “stand” one way or another. My son is 8 and doesn’t have a phone yet – it seems like friends with older kids recommend waiting until at least later middle school. My neighbor told me that when her 9th grader had a phone she only would let him connect on social media with other kids who would know who he was if he called and said “hey, this is John Smith.” Kids’ social media networks can get huge – and include kids they don’t really know. Opens the door to so many different situations that we didn’t face as kids.

  6. My kids are 9 and 3,5 and don’t have cell phones. I am planing to delay this as long as possible. But some class mates of my oldest kid already have them. Fortunately none of her close friends.
    Now I am very interested: Do you really check on your kids text messages and pictures? How often?
    And what makes you think it is neccessary? I’m really curious. I would be so hesitating to do this, I’d need a really good explanation.
    Thank you!

    1. We gave our 12 1/2 year old a phone with a full contract to sign ahead of time listing rights and responsibilities (including helping to pay for the extra line). We live in an urban setting and I wanted him to have some freedom while still being able to track and get ahold of him. I also needed him to have phone access when I wasn’t home. We did tell him that nothing on the phone was private and that we had the right to check his texts, social media accounts, etc. at any time. We also handed him a journal and said that he can write whatever he wanted in the journal without fear of us reading it. I feel like there is a learning curve with online behavior (including texts and photos) and we wanted to be able to help guide him through it. I had my own learning curve as an adult – I can’t imagine and don’t expect my child not to make mistakes, but want to be able to help him navigate and learn quickly before any serious mistakes are made. I don’t expect to be reading his texts when he is 15 or 16, but we will see how it goes. So far, so good.

      1. Love the journal idea! really clearly delineates the difference between public and private communication — and it is SO important for kids to understand that everything they put on the internet is public.

  7. I was 17 and off to college when I received my 1st cell phone. Our oldest just turned 11 and is headed to Middle School. We gave him an LG GizmoGadget phone/watch for his birthday in May. It can call 10 preselected #s & receive texts from designated ‘care givers’- mom, dad, grandma. Thus far it has been an easy & fun solution for him. It looks cool, & a few of his friends have it as well, so they can communicate. A plus for us, the service is only $5 a month! We considered a flip phone and may revisit that in a year or two but have found a good fit for now.
    From what I have read from child safety groups the ‘data’ is the big scary. Access to social media opens up such a huge & sometimes ugly world that our family is happy to steer away from for as long as possible!

    1. Thanks for the info on this. I’ve heard of these but do not know much about them. I have no plans to get our 10-year old his own phone anytime soon but when we do start thinking about it, this kind of middle ground approach would probably work well for us. I don’t have a problem with him calling and texting and could definitely see the usefulness of those functions as he becomes more independent and does more activities with other families, friends, his Scout troop, etc. It’s access to the internet that concerns me so much. I’m glad they are coming out with these types of options for families.

      1. Another shout out for the Gizmo! It’s been the perfect solution for our family allowing my 11 year old to have freedom to bike around our smallish town with his buddies. I can still track him and contact him easily and he knows how to get in touch with me if he needs me.

  8. Our decision was age 13. Given the cost of a smartphone, monthly contract, etc, it is a big investment and responsibility. We made it a graduation, confirmation, birthday present all rolled up into one. Since that was the precedent we set with my oldest, it has never been a question for my younger kids. They haven’t asked for one earlier than that – and I think secretly like being able to blame our “family rule”, if anyone asks why they don’t have a phone. With my youngest (age 11), very few of her friends have a phone, but a lot of the boys in her grade do. There has been a lot of boy drama, and very little girl drama, not surprisingly!

  9. My oldest is 12 and so far we have held off getting her a phone that is “hers”. She often goes off on her own in our neighborhood door to door of friends houses looking for someone to hang out with. She also has a problem remembering to tell us where she is once she lands somewhere and getting home on time. Her argument of course is that if we would just let her have a phone we could see where she is at anytime and call her to let her know when to come home. And believe it or not I have had some of her friends parents say the exact same thing. But I firmly believe this tracker is not a substitute for personal responsibility and until I see a lot more of that responsibility show up then there is no consideration on my part for her to have a phone. (And for the record this has been going on for 6 months or more and we ARE seeing improvement as she matures). But alas it appears she will enter 7th grade as the only kid in the world without a cell phone.

    1. I love this approach! Show personal responsibility first, and from that you earn the cell phone.

      I struggle with being on my phone waaaaay too much as it is, and I am 38. It seems a lot to ask my young kids to self-regulate on something I periodically have to take extreme measures to rein in.

  10. This is a great question. I got my first cell phone when I turned 21, back in 2004. I made the leap to a smartphone last year, after using basic flip phones. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t particularly like phones, and since I spend so much of my work day in an office, I completely unplug in the evenings and on weekends. I just want to be home. Not glued to tech the way i have to at work.
    My husband is a youth pastor, so he works with teens and their families, so he is very plugged in and tech-savvy, because it’s the primary way to connect with those in his ministry is through text and social media. We do a lot of reading about tech (We both are really fond of ‘The Big Disconnect’ by Catherine Steiner-Adaire), and how it impacts families.
    We have two rather young children, aged 4 and 6, so we have a few years before we really need to have this conversation: we’ll see how much society shifts regarding phones by that time, but I have a feeling it’ll be a while before our kids have phones of their own.

  11. georgine BOSAK

    My 10 year old does have a cell phone. I gave her my old iPhone for a couple of reasons. She is ADHD and I have found an Apple watch with a phone to be helpful in her getting what she needs to get done independently without me reminding her. I find the same system helps me (also ADHD) so I don’t forget when I need to remember (whether it is to get to am appt or take thyroid medicine). Also, we don’t have a land line. If I run my younger child to music or take a walk around the block, she has a way to get a hold of me. She does have some limitations, most of the apps can only use wifi, there are some things she cannot do without a password, and I monitor her usage. A lot of her friends don’t have phones, so I am not too concerned yet with texting/social media. She is artistic and really enjoys using the camera and editing apps. She also uses her phone to listen to Audible – audio books – at home and at school (she is dyslexic as well). I like that the phone gives her independence, autonomy and confidence. She will text friend’s moms for play dates. And it makes us both feel secure if she bikes down to her friends’s house a couple of blocks away. It all may change when more of her friends get phones…..

    1. My 11 year old son was just diagnosed as being ADD/Dyslexic and we are looking at a phone for him for just the reasons you mention. Do you have any recommendations for apps or strategies to help keep them on track with the phone? I’m hoping he can use it to take photos of his homework assignments (if written on the board), listen to more audio books, and even try some of the audio to text capabilities. Any advice for someone who is just trying to figure all of this out?

    2. I do love the audio-to-text features for my daughter who has some learning challenges (and ADHD). And I appreciate your system of reminders–that is going to be a HUGE help to my kiddo someday.

      I can already see how sucked in to tv, video games and the like that my daughter is–heck, I’m that way, too–so for now we’re holding off on getting a device for her. I still want her to write, paint, draw and generally create away from electronics. I fear for our children who only color on apps and only bake on apps. I want them to experience the world in 3-D.

  12. Ours are 10 and 13.

    When our older child started junior high we gave her a cheap phone with very limited data so that she could find us but not enough to text among friends or use any apps. In 8th grade she got a smart phone.

    Our big rule is no screens in their rooms. We will occasionally make an exception if asked in advance and for a good reason. I generally don’t read texts (teenagers know how to delete a text) but do take an occasional peek at things like pictures and apps. So far it’s worked fairly well.

  13. We have an extra, family cell phone the kids can use, until they can drive at which point they get their own. My kids are spread out enough age-wise that this works well, if they’re at camp or out somewhere they can take the phone with them, ortherwise it stays at the house. All of the kids give out that number to friends, which means their friends aren’t texting me all the time.

    And we read our kids texts and social media accounts. I trust my kids completely but it’s easy for them to get in over their heads. Back in the day when I was a kid everyone I knew had to call my home phone, which meant anyone could answer, or pick up another line. And while I did have privacy to make calls (yay for cordless phones), it was a limited sense of privacy. With social media, texts, and separate phone numbers it’s just different now. I don’t want to wait until there is a problem or my kids loose my trust to start monitoring their accounts because that makes it a punishment. And it’s not a punishment, it’s about creating an open dialog, being part of what’s going on with them and their friends, instead of letting cell phones and social media become this “black-hole-private-world” where anything can happen.

    It’s not about trust, truest its just that it’s easier to talk openly with my kids about how their friends treat them online (and how they treat others!) and see a problem brewing before it starts then to let things like cyber bulling get out of control before they realize they should get a parent involved. I would love to think kids always know when to get help, but that isn’t always the case. Problems can snowball out of control, and I want to be along side my kids while they learn to navigate technology and social situations

  14. My kids are a little older than the previous commenters, 13-20, and they get smartphones when they start high school (assuming they’ve met family requirement to get Eagle Scout/YW award from church, good grades, etc). It really comes down to communication and a fair amount of trust–that we teach them well and hope they make good decisions. I see some of their friends with super restrictive tech parents who hungrily use friends’ phones at school to do everything they can’t at home–it’s like having no sugar in the house but kids who gorge at the neighbors’ or when they go babysitting. So we’ve gone with moderation as our philosophy, and it’s worked out well so far…

  15. Elizabeth Anne Davis

    We got a smart phone for our then-12 year old son when we moved to a small town in Colorado. We live downtown and he wanted to walk to the barber shop and grocery store by himself, which was a reasonable request considering they are only 2 and 3 blocks away, but I didn’t feel comfortable letting him do that without a way to get hold of us. I still don’t love it, but I’m okay with it at least.

    We have net nanny on his phone, so he can’t access the internet without a passcode from us. He uses the phone to call a few people, text a few people, and take pictures and videos, which I upload to our PC to save. So far it is working okay for what we wanted.

  16. Our oldest is 12 and doesn’t have a cell phone yet. We have kept our family landline and a family computer so that our kids have access to their friends and internet, but in a public setting.
    I sometimes feel betrayed by other parents who get their kids cell phones at elementary school ages. Like, “Come on! Aren’t we in this together?” If none of us buy our kids cell phones until high school, then none of them will feel left out! 😂
    I also float between thoughts of “this is so awesome and convenient and what a great invention!” and “we are voluntarily ruining our own lives! And giving our kids the very tool that predators and cyber bullies can use to destroy their lives!”
    So, flying by the seat of my pants and making zero promises to any of my kids about when they get a phone of their own. 😄
    Great discussion!

    1. My oldest is also 12 (almost 13) and I feel the same way when another parent gets their child a phone! I’m glad I am not alone :)

    2. Me too!! Parents unite! Let’s stop the madness!*
      *caveat: there was a student at my son’s school who had one for safety reasons (divorce, family with ties to another country, threats to take the child and run…). I can see the reasoning there.

  17. My son started walking to and from school when he turned 10 so we ended up getting him a flip phone. We’re holding off as long as we can to get him a smartphone. He does have access to other devices but we try to limit screen time which has been really hard this summer.

  18. Our kids are 13, 11 and 8 and all have had cellphones for few years after a missed bus stop incident. They all started with basic cell phones (sliding text boards) and barely any internet access (and no internet access for the youngest whose phone could only call and receive to a pre-approved list of family and caregivers). They did complain about not having smartphones, but we explained that the phones were for parental convenience so we would have fewer missed connections and feel better about them having more independence as they do after-school activities. When they get home from school, they “turn them in” to the charging station at the entryway and there they stay until the next morning. I don’t think there is any right answer. If a phone is needed for communication, get a basic one. They are hardly ever on display at the store — ask for a refurbished one or one that’s just been turned in with a full keyboard for easier texting.

  19. Timely discussion. My kids, who are 12 and 9, don’t have any tech, though they have access to a family computer.

    My 12 year old has no interest in having a phone, and has told me how alarming he finds his classmates group chats when he sees them on somebody else’s device (because they are inane, not because they are mean or dangerous). So he’s actually glad not to have one. Out of 18 kids in the Grade 6 class, only four do not have a phone. While I am not sure I want him to have one either, I think him not wanting a phone reflects, and perhaps reinforces, his natural introversion.

    Recently he had a greater distance to travel on foot on his own, so we borrowed my mom’s phone for a week so he could reach us if necessary. I felt better that he had one, he didn’t care one way or another, and handed it back without comment at the end of the week.

    My 9 year old hasn’t asked for one yet, but I suspect she will soon. But she’s much more social.

    As for rules around phones, I will follow the example set by my friend who is raising three of the most terrific boys around:
    1) phones deposited in central location at 10 pm to be picked up next morning
    2) Mama knows all passwords to all accounts.
    3) Mama reserves the right to read texts or check other messages sparingly and never with intent to snoop – only to ensure health and well-being of kids.

    All of her rules were established and agreed upon before the phones were purchased. Which means there were no battles later on.

    Look forward to learning how others deal with it. Great topic, as always, Gaby.

  20. Oh, this is such a timely article for our family. Our biggest parenting regret is getting one of our kids a cell phone too early. Her older sibling handled a phone at age 13 just fine and is now 17. We just failed to factor in how much more extroverted our younger one is. It has been too tempting for her to check her phone often and though we have monitored texts and apps, we have found a few less than desirable things she has received. She simply has a harder time putting it down. She admits she likes it better when no one has a phone in their hands — she feels like it has taken away quality time with her friends since so many are busy on social media even while they are hanging out with friends. I’ve noticed both kids reading less, too. How I wish we could go back in time and wait until high school to allow a phone. I’d highly suggest monitoring with a service, too. Net nanny or phone sheriff or similar might be an added expense but will assist in keeping your child safe. I love the idea of a journal that is totally private, and I’d add that we do monitor our child’s phone with her knowledge. Best of luck making this decision!

    1. My sister in law has had her kids’ houseguests put their phone in a basket by the door when she sees them all absorbed by their phones and not paying attention to each other. Her rationale is “why the heck did I drive all over town picking up kids for you to hang out with, when you are going to do something that you could have done all by yourself?”. She also bans screens in her kids’ rooms. According to her she is the only mom who does this, among her kids’ friends. I think it totally makes sense.

      1. I was totally thinking about this! I’m probably going to be that parent as well that makes them all drop off devices by the door.

        Also, reading through here I like the idea of no devices in the bedrooms. I should start doing that since mine often play in a bedroom with one. It’s just so loud and obnoxious!

  21. We got our now 14 year old daughter a smart phone when she turned 12. She was in the last 25% of her class to get a phone. I was nervous about it but it has turned out to be just fine. We monitored her social media (just instagram) and texts a lot at the beginning but much less so now because I trust her judgement (though I do still take a peek every now and then, which she knows is fair game). She learned from a couple minor missteps early on, which I really value. I agree that there isn’t a right answer to the age question, but the later you start the harder it may be to make it a collaborative/learning process between the child and parents – some friends who started their kids when they were in high school have had issues with misuse. Our daughter was able to learn some important lessons while she was younger and the stakes weren’t as high that will end up serving her well.

    Another consideration for us is that her phone is her vehicle for communicating with many of her friends – she has lots of camp friends who don’t live nearby and they text and communicate on instagram, which is a really special part of her social life that she would be missing out on without technology (though she could manage with an iPod I suppose – but the phone has really not been an issue). Not an issue for kids whose friends are all local.

    We plan to get my son a phone when he turns 12 later this year; he has an iPod with NetNanny on it that has worked out really well – he mostly uses it for games on long car rides, etc.

  22. Texting and driving is now the number one cause of teen driving deaths in the United States–it causes more deaths than drunk driving or reckless driving. I appreciate that this is the first generation of adolescents to have phones and wonder how we can measure the other ways this is affecting life.

  23. Thank you so much for writing about this topic. It is great to hear other perspectives from parents of kids older than our own. We have four children, our oldest is 11. The 11-year old has asked many times for a phone and I have felt the pressure to allow him to have one because some of his friends have phones, although in my gut I don’t feel it’s a good idea yet.

    We have already struggled with pulling them from iPads and the Xbox and iPods on a regular basis. Our approach with these devices is to allow them to use them and set a timer- usually 15 or 30 minutes and that’s it for the day. If a timer isn’t set they’d sit there for hours on end and forget they have friends and the great outdoors and books, etc!

    Personally I lean toward despising these gadgets more than appreciating them, but I understand they’re not all bad. Probably the daily wear of having to regulate them is where my disdain comes from.

    Kids can’t be bored with all of these devices at their disposal.

    Boredom is a good thing!

    End of rant. :)

    Again, thanks so much for posting on this topic. It is much needed for us all. I’m looking forward to reading through the comments to learn from other moms.

  24. We let our 9 year old use an old iPhone that we had, but only during the summer and she is not allowed to text or call friends without asking first. She turns the phone in when she is not using it. Since she sails to a shoreboat, which then takes her to junior lifeguards and back, I feel it gives me an extra sense of security that she can call if something happens along the way. There are no adults walking the 19 kids that go to and from the shoreboat to Jr. Guards, although there are lifeguards posted at the street corner once they get closer. Since she is responsible for making sure she arrives on time to the shoreboat pickup and she is only 9, if she acts like a kid and arrives late, I want her to be able to call to get picked up. In my area, we are the super strict family – most 8 year olds have iPhone 7s.

  25. Our 6-year old has type 1 diabetes and carries a cellphone as part of her continuous glucose monitoring system. It is a device that really helps us out with managing her diabetes. One of the great things is that my husband and I can monitor her blood sugar remotely using the ap that accompanies the device. She is very responsible and discreet with the phone, but a phone on the hip of a 6-year old is pretty obvious so we have had some eye-rolls and comments from people. Sometimes I explain and sometimes I don’t. I totally understand how it looks, and realize I probably would have thought exactly the same thing if we weren’t in this situation.

    1. Great reminder to never judge – you never know the full story! And nice to be reminded of one of the many upsides of new tech.

    2. YES! Our four year old also has an iphone for Dexcom, his continuous glucose monitor. His phone receives the data from Dex, and it sends it to us – mom, dad, grandmother, school nurse – so that we can monitor his numbers and keep him safe. Most of the time for school, it’s in his spi belt (a slim fanny pack meant to house his insulin pump, and then we attach his insulin pump by belt clip to the same pack) but during summers, he’s at camp, and at the request of his counselors, his pump is in the pouch (so that he can easily jump in the pool) and his phone is clipped to the belt instead. An iphone in a kid-proof case on a belt clip on a small four year old is very visible, very obvious, and very much remarked about.

      Every single time, Hunter will say, “I don’t have an iphone. Dex does.” But he’s starting to have his feelings hurt by what he can tell is judgement from other grown ups. I always jump in that he has diabetes and its use is as lifesaving medical device, not a communication device, but still. He picks up on the judgement, and it hurts him.

      One day he won’t be as bothered by what other people say, but I do hope that everyone will keep in mind that the comments they make about other people’s life choices (in our case, to arm our child with technology in order to keep him safe) might be heard by sensitive little ears. Little ears on a little body that might have just had a really bad day with diabetes, a few shots, and a pump insertion all in one day.

      That little guy deserves support – not judgement.

      1. Thanks for sharing this story – I never would have thought about that, and it’s so good to know. I wonder – could you put a sticker on the back of the phone, if that’s what’s visible, that shows it’s a medical device? Like either the medical symbol ( or even just a printed label that says “THIS IS A MEDICAL DEVICE” in large print? Of course you shouldn’t have to explain, but if your little guy is having to deal with adult judgement, I wonder if some kind of visible explanation might reduce the number of times he has to deal with it.

        1. It already has that. I think people don’t even focus on it – they just focus on the reality of a four year old with an iPhone. And truly, in life pre-T1D, I would have too.

      2. Raleigh, it sounds like you’re raising a wonderful and well-spoken son! I wonder if marking his cell phone case in some way: a symbol of a cross in red or “this is a medical device” printed on it would help with the comments?

  26. My kids are 13, 15 and 18. The oldest wasn’t interested in a smart phone until 8th grade. The middle one got an iphone in 7th grade and the youngest in 6th. They all had ipod touches and kindle fires before they got phones. The youngest has no social media. The oldest has whatever social media he wants now. The middle has instagram and facebook. No snapchat, no twitter. In our area, pretty much all the kids have phones by 6th/7th grade. Some in elementary school. I would not allow a phone younger than middle school as the kids were always with one of us anyway. In middle and high school, phones are really part of their social life and they are allowed a little more freedom to be out without an adult. We haven’t had any big problems with them. We did start them out with Kajeet as the service provider because it had a lot of parental controls built in. You can set hours when the phone will be out of service.

  27. We have three kids (17, 15, 10). Our now 17 year old got his phone in the 7th grade. It was a flip phone and a pay as you go as he had it for the purpose of where to pick him up after band related events. For a while he used the school phone. When events lasted longer than the front desk was there and I wanted him to have one so I could find him and not walk around the school looking for him. I did that a few times and decided I wanted him to have one. He later got fancier phone when my husband upgraded and gave him his old iPhone. He lost it and had to buy his own and he decided on a lesser phone. He tends to lose things so he has always looked for phone deals and does not own a iPhone.

    Our 15 year old got her phone at the start of 8th grade. She paid half for an iPhone. She was the only student at her school in the 7th grade without a phone. Really. She likes to remind me of her “struggles.” :) We had her pay for part of it since she wanted a new phone and since we did not think it was a complete need as I work at her school.

    Our 10 year old does not have a phone. She has an old iPad that was my hubbies. She uses it for school apps, researching, making movies, and face timing family and her friends in the neighborhood. She has to ask permission to use it. She would like a phone but we don’t think she needs one.

  28. Yikes, these comments are depressing me!! I only have an 18-month-old, so we have a long ways to go before these conversations and I’m sure norms will change, but I feel pretty firmly right now that I don’t want her or any other of our children to have a phone of any sort until high school. (I got one when I got my license, at 16 – a flip phone, of course!) It makes me sad that she’d be the odd one out in so many of these commenters’ schools! We also have no plans to have an iPad, as I want to keep individual screens to a minimum as much as possible. (I have much less of an issue with communal screens, like a TV in the living room or a family computer.) I’d much rather pay for a landline than get my sixth grader a phone so I could call her when she was the only one home, but I know that’s not how everyone feels!

  29. When our son was in seventh grade, he started taking a city bus to a university to take math, and we got him a cell phone so I could communicate with him when picking him up. (We had to ‘find each other’ each time since I couldn’t park near his class. I was on a different place in the road each time.)

    Our 5th grade daughter wanted a cell phone, too, but had to wait because she didn’t have an actual need for one. My husband set up a gmail account for her which was configured to allow her to text on her ipod when she was on a wireless network. That way she could text her friends, sometimes. We still have a land line, so she had access to a phone at home.

  30. We have four children. Our 11 year old is our oldest and we are unsure how we are going to navigate the “phone world.”

    For now she has a gizmo gadget that she received on her 11th birthday. I love that we can check in with her and she can call us and let us know when her and her younger brother have started walking home from school. The phrases she can choose to text are limited so she enjoys using the voice message text option. It has come in handy often and has worked out really well for our family.

    She is one of the few kids heading into 6th grade without a cell phone, but was excited for the gizmo gadget watch, which was a surprise! We wondered if she was going to be embarrassed by it since she really wanted a phone like most of her peers, but she was happy about it!

    I love this discussion and appreciate all the comments so much as we enter into this next stage as parents.

    1. I am also hoping to do some kind of limited-access watch for my now-10-year-old, not till he enters middle school, though that’s only a little over a year away. He would really like a phone, but I’m thinking if I can convince a few of his friends’ parents to stick with a watch instead, it would buy us a few years. Also less chance of it getting lost if it’s attached to his body. We already have tons of issues around screen time with the shared family iPad, and he takes advantage of every time we are not paying attention to try to get more screen time, so letting him have his own phone sounds like a nightmare to me right now. At the same time, I don’t want him to have to be “the only” kid who doesn’t have something everyone else does, and realistically, I’m sure I’ll want a way to communicate with him, as he’s going to a middle school across town from our house.

    2. I have four kids 25, 23, 16, and 10. The older ones didn’t get their phones until high school and there weren’t any issues since there were really not many social media apps yet, but my 16 year old got one at 12. I wasn’t very good at monitoring what was going on and she did get herself into some trouble with it. I also felt I lost track of many of her friendships and her life became a lot more secretive. I have tried monitoring phone use but I believe it would have been much better to wait until she was older, like in high school to get one. I am waiting until my ten year old is in high school now. There is a new type of phone out. A watch for kids, geared for younger kids which is telephone and limited texting. I may try that. I just think younger kids are too vulnerable to be on social media.. growing up is hard enough without all the pressures young kids face online.

  31. This might come across as a worry-wartish, but I’m concerned about the long-term health effects of radiation from cell phones — especially on young, developing minds. I feel like so much was made of it years ago, when cell phones first started becoming popular, but now it’s rarely mentioned.

    Last year when our 12-year-old daughter started walking home from school alone, we did decide to get her a phone for safety reasons. She uses it, but she hasn’t shown all that much interest — and even feels stressed about by the “need” to reply to text messages. Nearly all of her friends have cell phones, many with them constantly in hand, texting and using apps like and Instagram. We often have my daughter’s phone turned off at home, and I think she actually appreciates being in her own space and disconnected.

  32. I had a well rounded 20 yr old guy tell me his mom got fed up with all the electronics in their home (5 brothers total) and threw them all out the window! Xbox, phones, iPads, etc. He said they were shocked and mad at first but it was the best thing she ever did. He said he and his brothers read more and went outside more after that. That story has stuck with me. I feel no pressure to keep up with my kid’s friends. I’m the parent. It teaches them they don’t have to “keep up with the Jones`” which will benefit them later in life. Obviously every situation is unique to each family but for us, we are waiting until I feel it’s absolutely necessary. I really get irritated seeing families out at dinner completely disengaged with each other because everyone is on a phone or using the phone as a behavioral babysitter. It’s a tough topic to figure out. Good reasons on both sides. Listen to your gut because you know what will work for your kid!

  33. It is not black and white. Having a phone does not mean having data. My kids received a not-smart phone (only calls and texts, old phone from pre-iphone days) when they started to go to places by themselves during the afternoon, such as ballet and sports, and learn to take the subway, so around 9 years old. There are no school buses here, and it is normal for kids to ride public transport to school (City in Europe). That seemed crazy to some of my US relatives who live in suburbia and drive their kids everywhere, where their kids would not even go to the neighborhood park by themselves. In their scenario, there was no need for a phone, while I liked my kids to be able to call me in case of a delay or even if they just wanted to stop by the park on the way home. It really depends on what setting you live in.
    My daughter got her first smart phone at 12, but the access to data is Wifi-only, and she has to turn it in about an hour before bedtime. I do try to monitor her social media, and we talk about internet safety a lot.

  34. Jessie Scanlon

    Thanks for this post, Gabrielle. My children are almost 7 and almost 10 and neither of them has a cell phone yet. Though my oldest wants one. I really don’t think there can be any hard and fast rule on when to get a child a cell phone. It depends so much on an individual child’s maturity, and the family’s logistics. For instance, I’ve noticed that children with divorced parents often get cell phones earlier than children with married parents. Similarly, children who need to get themselves home or to after school activities might need a phone before a child who is picked up from school by an adult. In any case, I totally appreciate all of the wisdom shared by other posters.

  35. I wanted my son to remember his world without a cell phone, so he didnt receive a smartphone until the end of 9th grade. We didnt feel he needed to get in touch with us until then because we have a house phone and we drive him everywhere so we are always together. But starting high school brought a lot more after school things that were harder to keep track of, thus the phone was bought for his 15th birthday. We have always had tracfones and been happy enough with them (they help you squeeze a budget), so for our family’s smartphone plan we went with cricket and have been very happy.
    We never have phones during dinner and we have taken it away. Like I tell him “It’s not a part of your body, put it down and go do something”. It is a new parenting challenge for sure but putting it off until we really needed it worked for us. You cant go back once they have a smartphone, so be sure that you are ready for the new responsibility.

  36. Whitney Ingram

    We are waiting as long as we can. And when my kid does get a cell phone, it won’t be for a birthday or Christmas because then he will think it is his. And there will be no social media. It’s far to easy to find real porn on IG and I don’t have a FB account so he would be hard pressed to convince me he needs one. Also, getting a cellphone will require a contract that we both sign. When he breaks the agreement, I have to take it. Luckily, he is only 12 and I don’t see a need in the foreseeable future.

    1. Your kid won’t convince you he needs Facebook – teens are not into that at all. :) When your mom, grandma, and teachers all use Facebook it certainly is not cool for you! Apps like Instagram and Snapchat (and probably some I’m not aware of) are what kids choose to use these days.

  37. I have four kids, 17, 15, 9, and 5. The older two kids got cell phones when they went to high school, and I don’t regret waiting at all. But they were very late based on the kids around them. The 9 year old has friends with phones, but he hasn’t asked. However, I did catch him pricing IPOD’s. According to my older son, he wants it for the games. My experience it girls and boys use the phones very differently. I don’t know if I can express this thought, but I think waiting encouraged my kids to feel less of a desire to spend their entire lives glued to a device, less compulsion, less attachment. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel like they use them too much.

  38. I am from Germany, have three kids, 9, 11 and 14.

    These are our rules:
    We have a basic old Nokia cell phone which can be used to call home or send a text message, but there is no internet access, no music etc.
    The kids were allowed to take this phone with them when they are making a little outing somewhere, such as visiting a friend on their own in the next neighborhood, six bus stops away (they were allowed to go by bus or on bike rides without adults from the age of 8 and are allowed to take the basic phone with them since.) This gives all of us a sense of security and also a sense of freedom.

    Our eldest son got a smart phone (hand me down form my husband) when he startet grade 8 last September. He has a limited amount/credit which equals 23 dollar. if he uses it up, thats it for the month. It usually lasts him till the 27th ;-)

    The younger kids are allowed to use WhatsApp on my phone to chat with friends. Both have group chats going on with their classes and sports teams and it would be hard for them if they couldn’t participate.

    A lot of families in our area have similar rules. In my middle sons fifth grade class out of 27 kids about half own personal smartphones (with internet access etc). But I can imagine that after the summer holidays there will be more. He is really nagging us to get his own, but we will stick to the rule: no smartphone before eighth grade!
    In my daughters gradeschool class (3rd grad, coming up for 4th grade) there are probably 8 with own smartphones.

    We own one iPad, every kid is allowed five minutes for every year they are old per weekend-day. This means 9×4= 45 for my youngest, 11×5= 55 for the eleven year old, 70 mins for our eldest.

    During the week the iPad is available for my youngest from 18.15-18.45, (we have supper at about 19: every evening), it is our middle ones turn from 19.45-20.20 (after supper, before his bedtime). Our oldest son can access it from then until 22. After that my husband grabs it and reads in bed.

    There is a rule about iPad usage: It may not be used while watching TV. Only one screen at the time!!!

    Our oldest son also has his own laptop that he sometimes lets his siblings use, if he is in a good mood ;-)

  39. Our family was unusual in that all three kids didn’t get cell phones until high school. They went to a school that focused on technology so they weren’t deprived of technology. All went well with that decision.

  40. Gave our almost 14 year old a flip phone a little over a year ago mostly because i was starting to drop her off places for long stretches of time and realized that the only way that she could call would be to borrow an adult’s cell phone and… what if the person that was making her feel unsafe was in fact this adult. as a sexual assault survivor this threw up huge red flags for me. she’s never had to use it for more than, “Class will be out a bit late, mom.” Are giving some thought to the whole text lag thing that happens with flip phones (serious delays), but she has not had a need for more than flip phone as she has access to screen time at home via computer.

  41. I’m actually so glad to hear that many parents didn’t give their kids phones until high school! We just got a pay-per-minute phone for our 14-year-old to use when he is out and about. He can’t use the internet on the phone and, though his friends can text if they are getting together, it is mostly so that we can get a hold of him and he can contact us. I think he is the second to last to get a phone out of everyone he knows! It has definitely been a good thing for him to see how some of his friends became very quickly disconnected from people and attached to their phones when they got them. It has helped him realize he doesn’t want to live on his phone! (My 12-year-old is also allowed to take that phone if she is going somewhere where she might need to contact us.)

  42. My kids are still way too young, but I am so apprehensive of getting them phones! My sister was probably the world’s original sexter when she was a troubled teen, and it was so awful! Having the phone and being able to communicate with her vacation fling (an adult interested in a 15 year old – obviously a great guy) enabled her to exercise bad judgment on a whole new level. Meanwhile, me chatting with school friends on AIM from the family desktop in the living room was easier to monitor, and I think that openness and accountability to my parents helped me sidestep some landmines. When I read things like the statistics on teens waking up in the middle of the night to update their Instagram accounts, I feel like we’re halfway to a Brave New World dystopia! I got my first cellphone at 24, which was quite late but not freakish for the era.

  43. My 14 and 16 year old were allowed to buy an android smartphone with the money they had saved when they were 12. Both prepaid and that is still the case, wifi is everywhere and costs can’t spiral.
    It’s the usual struggle to switch them of it before bed, but without whatsapp (we live in Holland) they wouldn’t have a social live. My son has a girl in class without and she is an outcast.

  44. Just before the end of school I was volunteering at a talent show at our elementary school. A group of fourth grade boys (10 years old) were done with their audition and asked to go call a mom to pick them up. I took them out of the music room thinking we would need to go to the office to use the phone. Imagine my shock when all of them whipped out their iPhones and started texting and calling!
    My 8 year old has no need for one and I was shocked that anyone in his school would need one.
    Then about the same time I was given an article about the dangers of Roblox an app that I had recently downloaded on my iPad for my son because some of his classmates were playing it. The article talked about predators creating environments in the game and talking sexually to the children.
    I really wasn’t expecting to encounter these issues for a few years!
    No phone through middle school for us!

  45. I’ve been reading many of the comments, and I don’t see this, so I thought I’d mention it! Our oldest daughter is 11, and just like many have mentioned, she really, really wants a cell phone. She will be entering 6th grade in the fall. At least half of her friends have cell phones.

    One thing I didn’t realize was the iPod capabilities. She got an iPod for Christmas from my mom and her husband, I think it was about 3 years ago. My mom had asked me first, and I was okay with it. Little did I realize the capabilities that it would have, which at the time surprised me. Originally, I thought it would be fine for her to have an iPod because she could play a few apps that she played on my phone, listen to music, those sorts of things. What I didn’t know was once I signed her up for an Apple ID (one for her age), it would allow her to send text messages and Facetime with other people. I had no idea, and boy was it a shocker! All of a sudden, I was faced with having to deal with that information. It’s obviously fine now, but for maybe someone that didn’t know this information, maybe this might help!

  46. My girls are 8 and 10 so no phones yet. My goal is to hold off until high school. If they need one for emergency purposes or when they’re visiting their dad, I’ll go with a flip phone. Young kids are still developing a sense of self. Add in hormones and having their self-esteem tested by peers and the media, access to social media adds another layer for them to contend with. I want my girls to learn to interact with the world face to face first. And I love your point about just not knowing because it’s all still so new.

    I say this all now but I’m well aware I might sing a different tune in a few years. Because such is life. And conversations like these are always great to have because it’s important to remember that there are so many different ways to raise good people…we each have our own way of doing things…and they’re all right and will change over time.

    1. I read an article awhile ago which shared the experience of a particular community and how families AND the school made a commitment together regarding phones and screen time. I really liked this approach because I think it’s easy for parents to set the tone in their homes but it’s harder for kids to leave behind the pressures they feel outside of the home ( at a friend’s house, at school). I’d love to see a digital literacy curriculum being used in schools with a community angle.

      1. Yes! See my comment below. Our school is no- to low-tech, and it’s is a HUGE relief to have that shared agreement. Our preschool-8th grade kids just don’t have phones. That means no social pressure, no “missing out.” My fifth grader hasn’t even asked, because she doesn’t need one. She spends seven hours a day five days a week with her friends, playdates after school and on weekends, and can voice call or Facetime whenever she wants using MY phone. It’s plenty! It’s not even a conversation in our community until at least 7th grade, when a few kids may start to dip into phone use a little bit. Reading through this thread, I’m more grateful than ever that it just doesn’t have to be a social pressure issue for us.

  47. I lived in a fairly dangerous city when I was in middle school so my mom gave me a phone when I was in 8th grade so that I could call her or the police should there ever be a problem. My two brothers who were older than me did not have phones though. I don’t think my mom gave my brothers phones until my older brother was in 10th or 11th grade and my oldest brother was a senior, about three years after me getting a phone first.

    For my kids, I’m mostly on the fence about giving them to them at all. They are still very young (3 and 5), but I just feel like they simply don’t need smart phones. I would much prefer giving them a basic phone that they can text and call on, but I don’t think anyone really needs a data plan, especially kids. My sister-in-law who is 16 in SE Idaho doesn’t have a smart phone or any access to social media, although she does have access to ipads and the family computer, and she doesn’t seem to be lacking anything in terms of a social life, or social status.


  48. Our son got his phone at 11. It was a handed-down iPhone. That being said, we still follow the social media rules that you need to be 13 to have an account (even though many of his friends have them already). He also knows that I can check his texts and pictures and anything else I want any time I want to. Also, his ability to have a phone is tied to his grades. If he doesn’t meet our requirements for his grades (which are reasonable), his phone will be taken away until the grade improves.

    So far he has been very responsible with the phone, but he also knows that I can and will take it away at any time if I’m not happy with how he is using it. We will definitely have to revisit everything when he’s ready for Social Media though!

  49. I believe children should get cell phones when they need them. There are plenty of families that won’t allow their children to take the bus to school yet they’ll allow them a smart phone with unlimited data to access the entire world. Two of my three children 13 and 12 now have cell phones because they are traveling back-and-forth to school and activities by them selves on mass transit. My third will not get his phone until he is doing the same. Our first child had a flip phone with no Internet capabilities but that is kind of a thing of the past.

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