Buying a Phone for Kids: When Do You Buy Your Kids a Cell Phone?

Now that Generation Y is now having children of their own, a new dilemma prevails: just when is the right time to buy a phone for kids? According to the New York Times and the Pew Research Center, in 2010, about 75 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds in the United States owned a mobile phone, up from 45 percent in 2004. While there are some cases of younger children getting cell phones, the overall consensus is that preteens, aged 11-12, are the ones who first begin begging for a cell phone.

There are basic cell phones for kids and preteens, from companies like Kajeet and Firefly Mobile. These phones are built with children in mind and include GPS tracking, blocking of inappropriate content, and restricted use in the evenings and during school time.

My first cell phone was a prepaid TracFone that I purchased myself and decorated with stickers in 8th grade, but not everyone in my generation was so lucky. Because of this, many Generation Y parents are hesitant to buy an 11-year-old a cell phone, but there are many reasons why cell phones can benefit both the kids and the parents.


Parents like the peace of mind that comes from being able to have a direct line to their children at all times. There are also apps available that allow for GPS tracking of phones in case the child isn’t responding to calls or text messages.

Family Communication

Besides communication to know kids’ whereabouts, cell phones may help parents stay in better contact with their child, leading to a constant stream of dialogue that isn’t always available when a parent is working long hours. Most cell phone users are more honest via text than over the phone, a 2012 study by the University of Michigan suggests. So if you really want to know if your tween has a boyfriend, maybe she will tell you over text when other communication methods have failed.


For parents who travel often or families that just have a hectic schedule, playing in social games via phones can be a great way to get in some extra bonding time. An intense game of Words With Friends may help kids feel more connected to their parents.

Building Trust

The privilege of giving a cell phone to your child has some serious implications: It shows him or her that you are trusting them to make good choices with how it is used. While some parents monitor their children’s cell phones, the fact remains that the gift of a phone for kids will be appreciated and may even show them that parents can be cool–sometimes.