Health and Wellness / Life Skills / Technology / Ages 11-18

My Child Wants a Phone. Now What?

It’s inevitable: Your tween wants a cell phone. What’s a parent supposed to do?

So your tween wants a phone. It happens. We can’t tell you exactly when to give your child a phone and how to manage their use—that’s going to depend on your family (groups like Wait Until 8th encourage delaying smartphones for kids until specific ages or grades).

On the bright side, as your kid gains independence, it’s easier to keep in touch with them if they have a phone, which is especially helpful if they’re traveling to and from school by themselves. On the less bright side, with easier access to social media and communication with friends, tweens can get easily distracted and find themselves at risk for cyber-bullying and other difficult social situations. Plus, phones are expensive. So there are a lot of things to weigh up.

Only you know the right answer for your own kid, but here are some factors to consider:

  • Is my child ready for the responsibility of owning a phone? Some tweens are ready and able to manage a phone and take good care of one. But if your child is frequently losing or breaking their belongings, it might be worth waiting. You’ll also want to feel confident that your child is able to keep track of their data use and stay within whatever limits you set, so you don’t get unexpected bills (and if you do, you and your kid should have a plan for how they’ll cover the extra costs.)
  • Can my child follow the limits I set for their phone use? You make the rules: how much time they can spend on a phone, phone-free times or zones in your home, whether or not they have access to social media, and how much access you’ll have to whatever is on their phone. (And we recommend that you have total access, anytime you want it, to everything they’ve got on there.) If your child is ready and able to cooperate with whatever guidelines you set, that’s great. If they’re not, they’re probably not ready for their own phone.
  • Do they need a phone? Are there alternative devices I can use to keep in touch without all the bells and whistles (and temptations) of a cell phone? If your child spends time commuting on their own—to school, extracurriculars, or friends’ houses—it’s a good idea to have some way to get in touch with them, and for them to reach you if they need to. But that doesn’t need to be a smartphone. Here are some alternative devices that limit what kids can do, while still allowing for basic communication and emergency use. (These vary in cost, just like smartphones.)

If and when you do decide your child is ready for a phone, you’ll want to have a plan for how they can and can’t use it. 

Consider drawing up a contract that lays out all the ground rules (and the consequences if they don’t follow them). For more help, here are some other factors to consider as you make a plan for your child’s cell phone access, and here are some sample contracts.

At the end of the day, remember that a cell phone can be a useful communication tool for you and your tween—and eventually, they’re going to have to learn how to use one appropriately, so your guidance on how to do that is essential. But a phone for your kid also comes with some risks. Getting ahead of those risks is an important step whenever you do take the plunge.