Ask the Experts: The Right Age for a Cell Phone - MetroFamily Magazine
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Ask the Experts: The Right Age for a Cell Phone

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We asked local experts to weigh in on the right age for a child to have a cell phone.

To find more answers to other common parenting questions, check out our collection of Ask the Experts.

Dr. Lisa L. Marotta: For generations, kids have always wanted the “latest thing.” The challenge now is that children have grown up with devices, which makes them more technologically advanced than their parents were at younger ages. The parental decision of a cell phone ought to be based on need versus want. If the phone is considered a need, then there are more questions to consider including:

  • What will the phone be used for: communication with parents and/or friends?
  • What is the privacy expectation?
  • What happens when it gets lost or stolen?
  • When is the phone off limits?

Make sure boundaries are discussed before the phone is given. It may take some of the excitement out of the new gadget, but it will spare you some of the power struggles later.

If you give a kid a phone, the next thing they will want is an app… right? Getting a phone is just the beginning of the conversation.  Check with your phone carrier for basic devices to avoid moving too fast too soon with privileges. Make sure you are ready to invest the time to teach your child about safe and appropriate use. Check for classes in your area about cell phone safety to educate yourself about the latest risks and parental controls available. For young users, you may choose to cap the number of texts sent or received in addition to limiting the number of minutes used on the cell phone.

It is also important to consider your own cell phone habits. Take some time to observe your behavior regarding phones at meal times, while driving and the frequency of checking for texts. If these behaviors would make you cringe as your child’s habits, it is time to clean up your act first.  

Dr. Lisa L. Marotta is celebrating 22 years of private practice. She is a clinical psychologist in Edmond with a special heart for women, children and families. Dr. Marotta enjoys writing, public speaking and blogging. She and her husband Sal have two young adult daughter.

Dr. Anne K. Jacobs: Experts used to recommend that parents hold off on getting their kids cell phones until they were somewhere in the range of ages 12-14. As cell phones became more ubiquitous and even encouraged in some classrooms at younger ages to aid in assignments, the tendency to supply parents with a recommended age has been replaced with a discussion about use and maturity level.

When we talk about cell phones, we are increasingly referring to smart phones which have the potential to open children up to much more than just contact with friends and family. Here are a few questions to help the discussion:

  • Why do your children need cell phones? Do they need one for safety reasons or to enhance social contacts?
  • Are your children responsible enough take care of this pricey piece of technology? 
  • Will your children use the features in appropriate ways (no texting in class, no bullying or harassing others)?
  • Can your children follow rules regarding data limits and downloaded apps?

Remember, even if you decide your child would benefit from having access to a cell phone, they may need to start off with a restricted access to certain online features. I encourage families to inform their children that they will have access to a family phone, not have their "own" phone. By describing the new cell as a family phone, it sets the stage for enforcing rules such as having access to your children's passcodes, being open to you periodically checking texts and apps and turning the phone in at night to be charged somewhere outside of their bedrooms. Access to screens has been linked to obesity and sleep problems across different developmental levels so take the time to think ahead and develop a family media plan such as the one available at:

Anne K. Jacobs earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Child Psychology from the University of Kansas and enjoys serving children, adolescents and their families. In addition to her private practice in Edmond, she holds an adjunct faculty position at Southern Nazarene University. Her family includes: husband, Noel who is also a child psychologist; twin daughters, Keegan and Sarah; one dog, two cats, and five tarantulas.

Heather Pike: Everyone has a phone (except my husband), right?  It's amazing and little frightening how most children just naturally know how to use a smart phone.  So many kids are growing up with one in their hand and that is a little concerning.  However, phones are a great way to communicate and stay in touch with loved ones. So, what’s the right age for a child to have their own phone?

So much of the answer involves a how mature the child is, family circumstances and the real need for one.  A phone is a big responsibility for everyone, with most phones providing much more than just calling or texting. They are mighty machines and entertainment devices with cameras, maps, apps and the internet.  You as the parent must monitor all of this and it’s not an easy task.  So, before you consider adding another line and expense to you cell phone bill, ask yourself if you are ready for the added responsibility of your child having a phone.

Heather Pike is the administrative director of the Oklahoma Family Network, a statewide non-profit organization connecting families who have children with special health care needs to other families and supports in their community.  She and her husband, have been blessed with two amazing adult children, one of which has special health care needs.  She is passionate about encouraging other families to never lose hope.

Courtney Chandler: The question of when to get a child a phone is a hot topic in many homes. The key deciding factors come down to two things: the situation why a child may need a phone and the parent’s comfort with the child having one. 

In posing this question to my peer group, the responses were varied. Some parents did not want their child to have a phone until they were driving, others wanted their child to have earlier access due to the increasing demands of a child’s involvement with extracurricular activities or because the child was away from the home for longer periods of time. 

Another major concern posed with this topic was “What type of phone do I get my child?” The answer, again, comes down to the parent’s comfort level of the access the child may have to internet, different apps and location tracking.  No matter the child’s age, if you are choosing to get your child a phone, talk with your child about phone safety and monitor their usage to ensure they are maintaining safe boundaries.

Courtney Chandler is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy and play therapist working for Sunbeam Family Services, a non-profit organization in Oklahoma City. Courtney is passionate about the power of play therapy and enjoys working with children, adolescents and their families

To find more answers to other common parenting questions, check out our collection of Ask the Experts.

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