What’s the Right Age to Get a Kid a Phone?

A hot topic at my dinner table and in my brain these days is when kids should get cell phones. My daughter is 10 and has already proven she is not old enough to be responsible with an expensive electronic device, but there were some times when we thought it might be a necessity for safety and convenience. After much debate, my ex-husband and I bought her an iPod Touch for her ninth birthday. The biggest perk for me was keeping in touch when she was at her Dad’s house. Suddenly, we were having a lot more contact via text and FaceTime and for me that was a big win. But all that goodness ended abruptly when she dropped her iPod in a toilet over spring vacation.

My now electronics-free kid changed overnight

Despite putting the drenched device in a bag of rice for more than a week, the iPod was completely dead. Now, it’s nothing more than a paperweight. So, for many months, my daughter went back to an electronic-free lifestyle. She and I agree that she uses her time more productively – drawing, coloring, playing outside, and doing gymnastics – when she doesn’t have Instagram.

That said, I work full-time and there are days when she’s a latchkey kid. I’ve already explained that she’s not always the most responsible child. The same goes for her house key. To date, we have not had a day where she is locked out but there have been many close calls. It’s those days where I wish she had a phone. It would also be handy when I’m picking her up from dance class or a play date to be able to keep in touch and let her know if I’m running late.

Safety is still a concern

I thought the decision for our family had been made for my daughter to keep with the phone-free lifestyle, at least for the time being. So, when it came time for me to upgrade to the latest iPhone last fall, I was all set to send my 4S to Gazelle. But then we had a day that caused me to reconsider:

My daughter’s ride to dance class fell through at the last minute. I was stuck at work and had to make a snap decision. My daughter could skip dance class or she could walk to class from home. It was an agonizing call but with some persistent pleading from my daughter, I agreed to let her walk. It was the longest 15 minutes of my life. I was so stressed to not be able to keep in touch during her solo maiden voyage into town. At that moment, I decided to keep the 4S as a back-up phone for emergency situations.

Age plays a factor with kids and electronics

We had another reminder in December, however that age 10 may too young to own an expensive device. My daughter had a play date at a friend’s house after school and asked if she could bring my old phone. I said “no.” To my surprise and dismay, she took it anyway. The phone ended up in a snow bank and it was not discovered for a few weeks. This time, remarkably, the rice trick worked and the seemingly dead iPhone came back to life.

What’s right for some, may not be for others

So, that’s where we are today – squarely on the fence. My daughter does not own a phone but she uses my 4S as an iPod Touch when she earns it. We debate regularly if and when we’ll activate it as a phone. The answer is “not today.”

So, as you ponder perhaps the most loaded topic of the decade, “What’s the right age to buy your kid a phone?” ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is your child mature and responsible enough to keep track of a costly device?
  2. Can your child be careful not to break a device? This includes not only not dropping it on the floor or ground but also not jumping in the pool with it in a pocket or dropping it in the sink or toilet.
  3. Is your child mature and responsible enough to use good judgment on how to use the device? Will they follow your rules about what they can and cannot do with said device and report things to you that they think are inappropriate?

And lastly and perhaps most importantly,

  1. Does the convenience of being able to reach your child and have your child reach you whenever needed outweigh the risks outlined in questions 1 to 3?

So, when should kids get cell phones? The answer: it depends on the kid…and the circumstances. Like many life decisions it’s a balancing act of risk and reward.

You might also be interested in our post about the Best Tablets for Kids.