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Children and Cell Phones: How to Know When They Are Ready

By Mason White 1:37 PM August 26, 2014

By: Aarav Sen
As parents know all too well, kids start asking for cell phones earlier than ever.

Children as young as five years old, have been known to ask for a cell phone, and by the time they hit the tween years not having a phone is a common source of pre-teen angst.

But Mom, Everyone Has One

If your kids did some research, they would actually find statistics to support their argument. For example, The Atlantic notes that by the age of eight, 20 percent of children already have a cell phone of their own.

This number increases to 26 percent by fourth grade and 39 percent by fifth grade. In addition, the Pew Research Center found that 78 percent of teenagers have their own cell phones and of this group, almost half of them have smart phones.

Of course, your own beliefs and values as parents should influence your decision more than what is popular. The fact remains that, at some point, most parents ask themselves when they should buy their child a phone. Interestingly, PBS notes, this important question can be answered by asking some additional questions.

Age vs. Maturity

Ask yourself these questions:

Is there a safety issue at play?
Does your child walk home from school alone?
Are your children pretty responsible around the house and take good care of their things?
Do they ride the city or school bus home to an empty house?
Do they make good decisions at least most of the time?

As Caroline Knorr, a parenting editor with Common Sense Media, tells WebMD, answering “yes” to some or all of these questions may be a greater indicator of a child’s maturity and readiness for a cell phone instead of their age.

For example, a child who walks home after school and arrives at an empty house, may need a phone at the age of eight to check in with mom or dad whereas an 11-year-old who is driven to and from school and has a tendency to lose things, might not be quite ready.

Cell Phones Don’t Mean Access to Everything

If you finally decide it’s time to get your child a cell phone, be sure to do your shopping homework. You don’t have to give your child access to everything at once. Many parents understandably are concerned about accessing social media sites, spending hours of the day texting with friends and staying up late playing games.

Elizabeth Street reminds us that just because kids are getting cell phones it doesn’t mean that they have to contain all the latest bells and whistles.

You can purchase a basic flip phone that doesn’t allow texting, buy a plan with more restrictions in terms of allowed minutes and usage, and set up a plan without Internet service. Skip the expensive phone and instead look for a great deal in case it gets lost or broken.

Then, before you hand it over, sit down and talk with your child about the responsibility that comes with a phone. Additionally, be sure they let you know right away if anyone sends them an inappropriate, disturbing or hurtful message.