When to Get Cell Phones for Your Kids

Consider these criteria before shelling out for a fancy smartphone for your child.

Photo by Jaime Chung

A version of this article originally appeared on Learnvest.com. 

These days, kids as young as toddler-age are grabbing our cell phones to play games, watch movies, and listen to music. And as soon as that starts, the “Mom, I want one!” pleading starts happening as well.

Before adding another expense to your family’s budget, you’ll need to think about whether your child is ready for the responsibility of owning a cell phone, and how you (or she) should handle the expense of purchasing one and paying the monthly bills. Here are the benchmarks to keep in mind.

Maturity Matters, Not Age

According to a Pew Internet Survey, most kids are between 12- and 13-years-old when they get their first phone (though they note that numbers may trend younger as cell phones become increasingly ubiquitous). But Anne Collier, co-director at ConnectSafely, a non-profit organization, suggests not focusing on age, because it’s not about how old a child is, but whether he has the maturity to handle a cell phone. As a parent, only you know if your child is going to use her phone constantly to text with friends instead of doing homework, or if she’s likely to get distracted and drop the phone in a swimming pool or lose it on the bus instead of taking good care of it.

Involve Your Child in the Discussion

If your child asks for a phone, sit down together as a family before proceeding, advises Collier. Say, “I would love for you to have a phone so I can be in touch, but let’s talk about whether or not you are ready.” Ask your child what she wants to use the phone for, how she plans to manage her time so she gets enough sleep and gets her homework done, and explain to her what your rules are for when it’s appropriate for her to use the phone, and for what purposes. You should explain what phones cost—both to buy the device and the monthly service charge, so she understands the financial implications.