What Age is Best for Your Teen to Have a Cell Phone?

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“EVERYONE has a cell phone but ME,” whined my twelve-year-old daughter.

“Your twin brother doesn’t have one either,” I responded.

A variation of this same conversation had been going on between us for years. Since my twins have lost their North Face Jacket, DS games, and other expensive items, I wasn’t too keen to shell out hundreds of dollars for a cell phone for my tweens.

I knew what my daughter was saying was true, that most of her friends had a cell phone. According to Techcrunch, in 2016 the average age a child gets their first smartphone is age 10. Another survey found that children received smartphones as young as age six.

Despite these statistics and my daughter’s perpetual whining, I didn’t feel that was a reason for me to buy a cell phone. I finally caved when my twins turned thirteen years old, but not because they were the only ones without a cell phone. I did it because it was easier for me than for them not to have one. 

When they turned 13 years old, they entered a new school which was a Junior/Senior High School. At this school, they had the opportunity to stay after school to participate in activities or sports. Sometimes they also received extra help from their teachers, which meant varying pick-up times especially between the two of them.

The frequent changes became confusing (for all of us) and required them to go to the office to use the school phone, which meant they missed out on classes. It was much easier for me to send a quick text asking, “What time do you need me to pick you up?” rather than waiting to hear from them. Or it was easier for me to ask, “Where are you?” instead of frantically calling the school to try to figure it out.

What age is best for your tween or teen to have a cell phone?
The answer to this question will be different for every family— and even kids within the same family— since maturity levels vary for all kids. Here are some factors to consider:

Responsible Behaviors: Cell phones are expensive and enable your children to have access to the internet; therefore, you want to make sure your kid demonstrates responsible behavior by keeping track and caring for material items before you allow them to have their own cell phone. You’ll also want to make sure they can be responsible regarding internet safety.

Safety: According to the CDC in 2015, almost half of all American homes did not have landlines. If your tween or teen stays home alone without a landline, then they may need a cell phone so they can call 911 or another emergency number if necessary. Your child may also feel safer knowing they are able to contact you when they are alone. There may be other situations when they would be safer if they had a cell phone, such as walking alone to and from the bus stop.

Convenience: The more involved your tween or teen becomes in activities, the easier it will be for both of your children to have a cell phone for communication. Instead of calling the school or their friends’ parents, you will be able to contact them directly to find out where they are or when they need to be picked up.

Questions to Consider
Has your child been able to keep track of expensive items (such as jackets, headphones, iPad) for the past month? 

Has your child used good judgment when using the Internet (you can check their search history for opened apps)?

Does your child follow rules and limits within the home and school?

Is your child respectful of other people?

In general, do you feel like you can trust your child?

In general, do you feel like your child is responsible? 

Does your child walk and wait at the bus stop alone?

Are there times when your child is alone at home?

Is your child involved in multiple activities?

Buying a Cell Phone for Your Child
If you answered mostly “yes” to the above questions, it might be the right time for you to purchase a cell phone for your kid. Before purchasing the cell phone, discuss with your child how they can demonstrate being responsible by keeping track of their phone and using the internet safely. You can also let them know that you will be checking their phone to make sure they are being responsible and respectful when using the internet. You can also remind them that using a cell phone is a privilege.

My twins have had their cell phone for almost a year now and they have managed to not lose it or break it. The communication between us has been easier when I’ve had to transport them to all their many activities. And it’s nice to not hear my daughter whining about wanting a cell phone. I figure I have about a two year reprieve until she starts up again about wanting a car.

Cheryl Maguire holds a Master of Counseling Psychology degree. She is married and is the mother of twins and a daughter. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, National Geographic, Washington Post, Parents Magazine, AARP, Healthline, Your Teen Magazine, and many other publications. She is a professional member of ASJA. You can find her at Twitter @CherylMaguire05