When I was 11, I wanted a new American Girl Doll. I wanted a few expensive-for-the-times leotards with Shannon Miller's name on them. And I wanted a Super Sender (remember how cool those were *supposed* to be?!). My, how times change. My 11 year old wants an iPhone. "Even just a 6S Mom, if I can just get my own phone!"
Even crazier than my 11 year old wanting a phone, though, is the fact that I am considering buying her a phone. While I’m not excited about committing to another monthly bill, I am coming around to the fact that there are obvious benefits to my daughter having her own phone.
Kids & Phones: At What Age Should I Give My Kid a Phone?
According to this article in NPR, more than half of kids in the US have a cell phone by age 11. This same article, which quotes a study done by Common Sense Media, says that one in five eight-year-olds now has a smartphone. No one tell my kid she is in the minority!
So what is the right age for a kid to get a phone?
Billionaire Bill Gates didn’t let his kids have phones until they were 14. Regardless of what studies (or billionaires) say, the decision is largely personal. There is no right or wrong answer, and every kid has different needs and reasons a phone might be a good tool for him or her.
Kids & Phones: The Benefits of Tweens Having Their Own Phones
I realize there are valid, good reasons to hand my tween a phone.
It would give her more freedom from her dad and me. Right now we go to every ice skating lesson, every softball practice, every school function and simply wait until it ends and then take her home. We never know when a practice might end early or run late, and we don’t want to have her be the last kid waiting for a ride home. So we simply stay onsite and busy ourselves on, you guessed it, our phones. Giving her a phone would allow her to communicate with us and reduce the need for us to be ever-present.
It would give her a bigger sense of responsibility. While we wouldn’t make her cover the cost of her monthly phone bill quite yet, we would make her be responsible for everything else regarding her phone. We would institute a rule mandating that, if she breaks it, she must pay for repairs. And if she loses it, she has to buy a new one. If she leaves it at home, I’m not running to practice/her friend’s house/school to bring her the phone. She will have to learn to be responsible for it herself.
It would give us a meaningful form of punishment. There was a time when we could take away dessert or a favorite toy to correct a behavior we didn’t love, and it was a sad day for me when we outgrew those days! Now, if my daughter is acting up or not completing schoolwork, we take away TV time or time with friends, neither of which work as well as we would like them to. I am well aware that, if my daughter is anything like me, she will love her phone and will be very distraught if it is taken away!
Kids & Phones: The Downside to Tweens Having Their Own Phones
Like with everything, there are good reasons for tweens to have phones and there are bad reasons for tweens to have phones.
I can’t necessarily control who she can access. Sure, I can lecture her about not giving out her phone number like candy, but I can’t monitor her phone 24/7. I can put parental controls on as many apps as I am able, and I can use as many monitoring tools as I can find, but ultimately, she will likely be able to talk to people that I won’t approve. I will have to trust my girl to make good decisions and hope that I’ve taught her well.
I don’t think she needs to be this tethered to the phone yet. Yes, my kid is one of the last in her age group to not have a phone, but I’m okay with that. When I’m in the pick-up line at school, I see all the older kids tapping away at their screens. When I’m at dinner with my girls at the mall after ice skating, all the kids are on phones. Everywhere I turn, kids my daughter’s age and younger are already glued to their screens. We don’t let my daughter take her iPad anywhere other than her grandparents’ house, so she isn’t glued to technology once we leave our four walls. And I don’t hate that at all! I tell her, near constantly, that she will be an adult glued to her phone like the rest of us some day. No need to rush it!
I want her to learn how to entertain herself without screens. I want my girl to know how to have a conversation with someone that isn’t over text message. I want her to know how to play board games and go on long bike rides and read a book. I want her to entertain herself without screens as often as possible. I don’t want her phone to be the only thing that can hold her interest. And I think the longer I hold off on the irresistible temptation of a cell phone, the better off she will be in the long run. Now will someone just please tell her that?
Ultimately, the decision of when to let your child get a phone is up to you. There are a lot of great reasons for kids to get phones and a lot of great reasons for them not to get phones (and if you haven’t read my blog post yet on secret apps- read that!). Just make sure to spell out the phone rules clearly and quickly because kids need boundaries, especially when it comes to phones!