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Bright ideas from our readers: Cell phone use

Our readers debate whether children should have cell phones and at what age.

By GreatSchools Staff

We got an overwhelming response from our newsletter readers when we posed the question: What rules do you have for cell phone use for your child?

Many parents wrote that they wanted their children to have a cell phone for their peace of mind, and for emergency use. Letting a child have a cell phone while setting ground rules for its use is a good way to teach kids to be responsible, these parents said. Monitoring cell phone use and avoiding large bills can be a problem, but here are some solutions from our readers:

Buy a prepaid plan or a plan with programmable features

That way you won't be stung with bills, like one parent was, for "$300 worth of music downloads." With a prepaid plan, you are limited to a certain number of minutes. Some service providers will let you convert an old cell phone into a "pay as you go" phone, which can be a big cost savings.

Other phones, such as the Firefly, have programmable features. A California parent wrote:

"The great thing about this phone is the pre-programmable features that can only be accessed with a pin number that I choose. My daughter can only send and receive calls to and from people that I approve first."

Set the ground rules

When you make the rules, you give your child much-needed limits and consequences for not following the rules. As a parent in Indiana wrote:

"The rules in my house regarding cell phones and our teens are: They are to be turned off by 8 p.m. When you are in the house, call your friends on the house phone. Your cell phones are not your personal telephone line. They are to be used for emergencies and for after-school activities."

A parent in Florida wrote:

"My #1 rule for my son who is 11 and just started middle school is no matter who you are on the phone with, if I am calling you, you need to answer otherwise your phone privileges will be revoked. My #2 rule is that when he gets to and at the end of school he calls me at work to check in with me. He has the phone strictly for safety reasons. If he has an emergency, I want him to have access to me at all times."

Setting the rules can also aid in teaching a child money management and responsibility, as well as a sure-fire way to get kids to do their chores. A parent in California offers these rules:

"My 12-year-old wanted a cell phone in the worst way! Not wanting to get involved in a contract, I made a deal with her. If she paid for a non-contract cell phone herself, from her saved money, I would buy the minutes in exchange for household chores. That way, she is responsible for her phone, and its usage, and is learning the value of hard work. Also, she still has a curfew on when and where she can use the phone. It's a win-win, and has worked out well for us. She is using her phone responsibly, and learning valuable lessons as well!"

Text-messaging can be a hidden cost, so it's a good idea to set rules around this feature, and to be mindful of the school's rules about cell phone use, too, as suggested by this Connecticut mom:

"My 12-year-old son and I share a Cingular family plan. There are a few rules we follow:

  1. When home, use the land line.
  2. There will be absolutely no text messaging! This is the real cost with cell phones.
  3. Cell phones are not allowed to be used in school. (Many Connecticut schools have banned cell phones while school is in because it is easy to store answers to test questions.)"

Many parents find that equipping a child with a cell phone makes after-school pickups more convenient. As a parent in California wrote, it can also serve as a lesson in responsibility:

"I purchased a cell phone for my 15-year-old son because he is in after-school sports and practice never ended when it was supposed to. We bought a phone with prepaid minutes to avoid surprises at the end of the month. We buy a $20-card each month. If he runs out of minutes, he needs to buy minutes with his own money. If he doesn't use his own money and is out of minutes, he waits for us to pick him up when we think he might be out of practice. Since he doesn't like to wait it has worked very well."

Several parents felt that kids should only have cell phones when they are old enough to drive. At that age, they are also old enough to take responsibility for the bill. A mom in Illinois wrote:

"Rule #1. You do not get your own cell phone until you are driving. Not open for negotiation. Rule #2. You may borrow mine in time of need, (ride home after game, etc.) Rule #3. Any extra charges, you pay."

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

11/7/2011:
"The cited pointers here are great! But to encourage responsible cell phone use among children, parents can look for a kind of cell phone that already promotes responsible cell phone use among children with its design and features. The Just5 cell phone is one example of it. It is simple and basic so kids are less likely to abuse the use of this device. Here is a content that discuss this matter in detail: http://www.just5.com/story.php?story=29102011100143911874629&page=blog "
04/24/2009:
"My daughter got a cellphone and since i had to pay like 700 bucks I blocked off internet and her games"
02/18/2009:
"My 10 yr old daughter just received a cell. Her mother and I have been divorced since she was 10 and custody/ communication has always been an issue. Now I can communicate (usually via text messages) with her at least every other day. The first time I received a 'I love you, Daddy', I was hooked. Its not ideal, but its better than it was. Nobody is making her feel uncomfortable and I can at least get to communicate with just her! There are lots of reasons I had for her not to have a cell already, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise!"
12/3/2008:
"I'm a 13 year old girl and I think children should get cell phones when they actually have after-school activities, like sports. I really don't think nine-year olds need cell phones. That's really stupid. I was 12 when I got mine and I use it maturely. Meaning to contact my parents, stay in touch with my friends, and make arrangements."
02/11/2008:
"Some people say that giving a child a cell phone gives them adult privilages. How is that? i dont belive that giving a child the privilage to have a social life and talk to their friends is concidered an adult privilage. Children under 13 dont NEED a cell phone but it would be something to work towards as we get older. As a 12 year old girl i know i really want a cell phone. When i think about it i realize their are other better things i could be doing. Although it would still be nice to have one."
01/11/2008:
"I manage a grocery store in Martinez, CA. Cell phones are a constant battle in the workplace where these kids should be learning to practice quality work ethics. Instead, many of these kids constantly look for a way to slip away to use their cell phone, or they can't help answering a text message WHILE they are helping a customer! I don't believe a cell phone helps young men and women practice any form of responsibility when their parents aren't watching. If their parents only could hear what I hear at the workplace! Most of these kids have their parents every move anticipated and they talk to each other about how to go about fooling their parents about what's going on in their lives.After watching what these kids will do and say to fool and trick their own parents, my kids will never have a cell phone. Don't think your little angle would never do a thing like that, believe me, 20 kids work for me and every one of them have mommy and daddy fooled so be very careful!!"
10/17/2007:
"I feel that we as adults survived without cell phones in school and after school for generations, why is it now important that a child carry a cell phone all the time. For emergencies, at school they are with teachers and they can have the teacher contact their parents. We did as kids. The kids should not be bringing cell phones into class. The parents need to be taking more control of their children's activities and not giving into a fad. I have a friend who raised three kids without a cell phone. They knew where their kids were at all times. When they weren't, my friend went looking for them and they were grounded. Kids need ground rules and after school and on weekends, they need to inform their parents where they will be and keep that type of communication going. Everyone is going tech crazy and the kids are suffering for it. Don't believe me? Check the internet any day especially the chat lines. These kids can't spell, can't speak English and have a hard time communica! ting without cussing or using heavy slang and the parents spoil them with cell phones and computers. Get your priorities straight. Focus on educating your kids and making them responsible adults first. They don't have to have a cell phone because everyone else has one. Come on your are the adults and they need guidance. Don't distract them with these toys. When they become 16 years old and working part time, let them have one with the understanding they pay their own bills. That will teach them responsibility, but again the cell phones do not belong in school. "
10/10/2007:
"My 7 year old has a cell phone I know that thats too young, however, he only uses it on the weekends and he plays games which he asked if he could buy it.. I did agreed to it and he also knows not to take it outside unless were together. He only calls his dad and his sister. I don't trust him to have it without me because Im afraid of him putting it down. But yes, that's too young. I think teenagers should have phones when they become responsible enough to handle the bill."
08/23/2007:
"i think you should get a cell phone when you are mature and can pay for it on your own"
08/10/2007:
"I have read some of your comments. I am looking for a cell phone for my twin girls age 10. I love Disney Mobile plan with the GPS tracking and text messaging service ideas. My children have been homeschooling for the past 2 years and have decided they want to return to public school. Because of some Public Schools rigid rules, and long hours a day, combined with a long bus ride and everyday situations, I want my kids to be able to get in touch with me when they need to. I have had prior experiences where some teachers have been unkind to my kids, starting in just the second grade! After finally listening to what my daughter was trying to tell me, it took me leaving work early and getting to the school to monitor the class. Within 5 minutes of observing the classroom I could see instantly their teacher was incredibly intimidating, and that was with me observing!! I could have kicked myself for not listening to my daughter sooner, they were only 7 at the time! Never again, wil! l I subject them to intimidation from any teacher, or adult without me knowing about it. When you think about it, there is no way for the kids to get in contact with their parents if they need to, except to use the office telephone, and then of course they will have to explain 'what emergency' they will have to use it for? (As well as being monitored while talking.) Text messaging and vibrating phones will come in handy to check in quickly with Mom to see how their day is going. Lets get real, with everything going on these days in schools like slayings, shootings, abductions, bullies, gangs, molestation, peer pressure ect., this is just one small step to hope our kids can get in touch with us quickly. Hopefully they wont, but it may give us both piece of mind they have a tool that can help them connect if they need it. As far as responsibility, yes, of course that goes along with it. They can talk to friends on the land line phone when they get home if they need to. As par! ents we set the rules, lets hope we brought them up with enoug! h respec t to show us, they can follow them! "
03/20/2006:
"I deffinetly think a cell phone is appropriate started at the age of 12. Making them do chores in exchange for minutes on a phone, is a great way. Not only are they learning responsibitly, they are able to be reached in case of an emergency at any time, no matter where their at. "
03/20/2006:
"I think it would be great for my daughter to have a cell phone because she is always out and running around with her friends. She also knows that if theres any extra costs she has to pay for them herself with her own money. I thinks its a fair deal because I trust her!!!"
01/31/2006:
"I like this article a lot. My 8 year-old daughter asked me for a cell phone and I told her 'no'. Right now I am encouraging verbal communication in a big way between us because I am a single-parent with a busy career I make face-to-face communication a top priority. I explained to her that she would receive a cell phone when she is in high school because right now she is always picked up from after-care by me or another trusted adult. Her extracurricular activities are few so I just told my daughter that a cell phone is not really necessary. It took a few conversations for it to sink in that I was not going to give in to her demands, but she stopped asking. It took quite a while for me to say that I agree with the parents who think that cell phones should be given to older children who have a track record of being responsible and are able to help pay for the phone time."
01/17/2006:
"My 14-year-old has a cell phone for emergencies only. I have found that it is a great tool when I want to pick him up from school unexpectedly."
10/12/2005:
"Since our son has had a cell phone since he was 11 (he is now 17) he has never overused or abused it. Our rules have always been simple: 1. It's not a toy. Use it only for important calls and keep them short. 2. Be aware of peak and free calling times and the people you can call for free. 3. Track your text messages so you do not exceed your plan limit. 4. Don't talk while driving. 5. Follow your school's cell phone rules. 6. Be discreet. No one likes a showoff. "
10/12/2005:
"My son is 17 years old and will soon be 18 years old. He is in High school and has had a cell phone, since, he was in the 9th grade. We live in California, so, he has a Metro cell phone with unlimited minutes and texting with a monthly rate that never changes. He pays his cell phone bill. Although, he is a Senior in High school, there are a few rules: 1. No calls or texting, while doing homework or studying. 2. Phone must be cut off by 9 pm 3. If grade are not good, the phone will be taken away. I got him a cell phone, once he entered in High school, because, he would be in after school activities and I would be getting off work at the time, he may be getting out to pick him up. If I was going to be late picking him up or have someone else pick him up, I needed to be able to communicate with him. I also work a second job 3 days a week and while I am away, from home, my family can always call or text me, especially with my Mom being disabled."
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