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The Cell Phone Dilemma

Every kid's got one

78% of teens, ages 12-17 now have a cell phone (Pew, 2013). And, six out of ten 8-12 year-olds, or tweens, also own cell phones (Consumer Reports, 2012). There are pros and cons to kids having cell phones, and it really is a personal choice for you as a parent to make, based on the needs of your family. However, there are some important things to keep in mind.

Things for parents to consider

Promoting safety. One advantage of letting your child have a cell phone is that they do offer security and convenience. Today, you don’t need to ask your child whether he has enough change to call home. Or, if you are caught in traffic and are going to be late picking your child up from a sport or activity, you can let him know. However, cell phones, like any technology, may not work on any given day for a variety of reasons, plan to have a back-up means of communicating with your child. For example, have the phone number of a coach, or the parent of your child’s friend who is in the same activity, and your child should have your number written down, in case either of you needs to get in touch with the other. If and when you choose to get your child a cell phone, this can be a good time to have a talk with him about safety and what to do in case of an emergency.

Setting limits. If you decide to get your younger child a phone, consider one of the phones designed especially for kids. These phones limit who can call your child, do not have Internet access, may have a tracking system so you know where your child is, and make it easy for her to reach you and other emergency contacts by allowing you to program speed dial buttons. If you decide that your teen is ready for a cell phone, you might consider limiting the number of minutes and text messages that can be used, because these can quickly add up on your monthly bill. Also, these days the Internet can be easily accessed through cell phones, so you may want to monitor and limit what your child can access and download. If you have a teen that has recently started driving, cell phones can help in the case of a break down. However, they can also be a distraction for new drivers and should only be used while driving when there is an emergency and your teen has pulled over.

Teaching responsibility. Unless your child has a cell phone for emergency use only, a cell phone is a privilege and can be a good way to teach responsibility. Like Internet or TV time, taking cell phone privileges away for a period of time can be a consequence for negative behavior, like failing to complete or turn in homework. Or, if your child wants a cell phone, you can have him contribute towards the monthly charge from his own earnings or allowance. This will teach him the concept of having to work for things. Also, if your child does have a cell phone, the same rules that apply to the home phone (if you have one) should apply, such as no talking on the phone during dinner time or after a certain time at night.

Additional Resources

Almost half of all teens who have a cell phone, own a smartphone (Pew, 2013). Smartphones allow easy access to Internet and social media applications. Check out our other resources on OTJ for more information on how to keep your child safe online.


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