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When to Get Cell Phones for Your Kids

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

Girl playing with ipodJaime Chung


Teach That Cell Phones Are a Privilege, Not a Right

Even if everyone else has one, owning a cell phone is not a right, and your child shouldn’t take this expensive device for granted, says Stephany Kirkpatrick, Learnvest’s Director of Financial Planning. The first step is having your kid at least partially help pay for the phone, or earn it, instead of having an expensive, cool new gadget just handed to him. Work with him to make a plan for how he can save up to contribute a certain amount toward the phone, whether by using allowance and birthday money, getting a job, or “earning” it by doing extra chores.

You may want to ask him to chip in a certain amount each month toward his plan, too. You’ll be teaching him that if he wants something, he has to work toward getting it, and that things won’t just be dropped in his lap.

Start With the Basics

If you wouldn’t give your kid $200 to carry around in her pocket, why would you give her an expensive, top of the line smartphone? Instead, start her off with a basic phone that is just for conversation, and not for texting. Or, if you choose to give her your old phone when you upgrade, look into parental controls (like these from Sprint, Verizon or T-Mobile) that carriers offer so you can block internet access, set when a child can send or receive calls or texts, set up GPS tracking, and much more. Keep in mind the carriers do charge fees for many of these options, so factor that in when you do your budgeting.

Take a Trial Run

If you aren’t entirely sure your child is ready to handle having his own phone, consider a trial period. If your kid’s grades drop, or he’s skimping on sleep or sending texts all day and night, it’s within your right as a parent to take the phone away. You may want to look into prepaid phones for this before locking into a longer-term contract.

If by some crazy twist of fate yours is the only kid in town not begging for a phone, but you’d like him to carry one if he’s out with friends without an adult, try a pay-as-you-go basic phone that the entire household can use. Keep it fully charged, and hand it to him if he’s going somewhere where you’d like him to have a phone. That way, he can hand it back over when he comes home and not be worried about paying for a monthly cell phone bill.

Read More About:Kids & Parenting

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