How Old Should Children Be When They Receive Their First Cellphone?

If the study that is quoted below is accurate the answer is kids are being given cellphones in utero. Ok, that is an exaggeration but it is clearly happening at very young ages.

“Cell phone owners are getting younger and younger. According to a new study, 83 percent of middle schoolers, 39 percent of fifth-graders, and 20 percent of third-graders have a mobile device.

Stephanie Englander of Bridgewater University conducted the study (PDF) for the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center. Her research consisted of interviews with 20,766 Massachusetts students, in third through twelfth grades, with the goal of seeing whether readily available technology plays a role in cyberbullying. CNET

What do you think about this? Is there a “right” age or should it be based upon each child and their particular set of circumstances?

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  3. Anita Wolf Griffith August 16, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    We were just talking about this earlier today. As my twins enter 6th grade and middle school, they are still not involved in anything much that would take them somewhere that I’m not. In about a year, we’ll really start entering “the Bnai Mitzvah circuit”, where they’ll be invited to parties that we’re not. I think that’s probably the time we’ll get one. However, it will be a cell phone. Not a smart phone. Limited texting capabilities, limited phone call capabilities, and NO internet access. I just don’t think it’s safe, and it certainly isn’t necessary.

    • Josh August 16, 2012 at 7:24 pm


      I think it is important to monitor what they are doing and where they are doing it. The net provides access to all sorts of information they don’t need to see just yet.

      I am with you about the need to use a basic phone.

  4. Art August 16, 2012 at 10:06 am

    hey Josh, i’ve pondered this one as well, mine starts middle school next year but i still think she is not ready yet. I think a lot of it is their maturity or level of responsibility and that they should never take it for granted. If they burn thru the minutes then they lose the priviledge of having a cell phone. I know most think it’s a necessity but i disagree. The lines of communication run 34/7 and if it’s a true emergency someone will have the presence of mind to contact a parent/guardian and relay the information. I think since 9/11 our society has become more “crisis conscious” and the ability to communicate instantly is far more expedient and widespread than when we were growing up.

    • Josh August 16, 2012 at 7:23 pm


      I don’t see it as a necessity either. We managed without them and did just fine so I am confident that our children can too.

      However I am leaning towards getting one for my son for many of the reasons that have been listed here. It can be used as a tool that helps to teach responsibility and there is something to be said for the convenience of being able to contact each other.

      There are times where we can save time by making arrangements in advance and that is never a bad thing.

      I also want to do what I can to help promote my children’s ability to become more independent. The 27/7 news cycle and proliferation of information has made many people fearful and I am not convinced there is a reason for so many people to be so fearful.

  5. Dan Lipman August 16, 2012 at 8:24 am

    Hey Josh,
    My daughter just received a basic cell phone…no texting….no internet. It happens to be an old phone of mine. She is 13 and we gave it to her because of a trip she took by herself to visit her uncle in Colorado.

    I do not have a problem with a TWEEN having a cell phone. However, seeing some of them texting all day with their friends and playing games somewhat disturbs me.

    There are days that I miss the .25 payphones. We did just fine without cellphones growing up, right? Do not get me wrong, technology is great. I am glad that my daughter can contact me from the mall etc… to be picked up etc… or if there is a problem, just no texting….or going on the web.

    Plus, cell phones are expensive! I pay more money per month on our cell phone bill then we do with our cable bill and home phone bill! Crazy!


    • Josh August 16, 2012 at 10:00 am

      Hi Dan,

      Those old payphones worked just fine. In concept I would prefer to go about life that way but I am not sure if I can figure out a way to dial back the clock that wouldn’t cause issues.

      My 8 year-old certainly doesn’t need a phone, not for the things she does right now. I have friends who are divorced so their younger children have phones because it has helped with communicating, but…

      You are right about the cost, it is not cheap.

  6. Craig McBreen August 15, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    My 12 year-old son has one and I don’t know what I would do if he didn’t. Texting is a great way to communicate with your kids when you’re not near them. He’s good about getting back to be and believe it or not, so is the 18-year-old :D. Of course every time I text him he says he’s chillin’

    • Josh August 16, 2012 at 9:56 am

      @CraigMcBreen:disqus I am a big fan of texting. I communicate with many people that way so I can see how it might be useful for keeping in touch with my kids.

      Your older son has the life. I want to be able to say that I am chillin all the time too. 😉

  7. Julie August 15, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    I think the right age is the intersection between YOUR desire for them to have one (out of worry) and their ability to hang onto it.

  8. Life, for instance August 15, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    Hi Josh,
    Good question! I don’t really have an answer, though. I think I’m with you in the waiting department. I wonder, though, about this very expensive (I’m thinking iPhone, etc) “toy”. I’m actually rather happy that my children will be making that decision for their children – and they’re smart so I’m just waiting to see how they handle that when the time comes!

    I can’t help but wonder if the cell phone should come with responsibility for the care and cost of it. If my children were at the younger ages, I’d be hard pressed to just give them something like that.

    I had a friend who said she wanted her daughter to have a cell phone (in middle school) so she would know where the child was, but it doesn’t work that way. All you know is they are somewhere – with their phone. The daughter ended up getting into trouble with the phone as well. There too is an area of responsibility which the child should be mature enough to handle. And what child under university age can handle the kind of peer pressure and what-else-goes-with-that? I guess I’m leaning towards this answer then: when they can afford to pay for it themselves. Then the matter of responsibility is a moot point.

    • Josh August 16, 2012 at 9:55 am


      I am definitely not in favor of getting my children an expensive phone. I am thinking about getting one for my middle schooler, but if I do it is going to be a basic phone.

      They have phones now where you can use the GPS in them to track them. Many are made specifically for children so while they can be anywhere you can still find them.

      It certainly isn’t something our parents had to worry about.

  9. Kaarina Dillabough August 15, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    Is 21 too young? Just kidding. My kids grew up somewhat pre-ubiquitous cell phone, when the phone was for “emergency purposes”, rather than the ever-present-penguin-downward-craned neck posture of youth today.

    My question, is this: what purpose the cell phone? For emergencies? For every-moment-online texting? For safety and security?

    Even with my kids as adults now, we have rules: no texting/talking (do kids even talk on a cell phone? I think not) when we’re in conversation, when we’re eating, when we’re visiting. Works for us. I can’t control what they do away from the family homestead, but while under my roof, the rules are strict. But in public, I’m guessing that peer pressure is strong, the culture accepts it as defacto (kind of like bell bottom jeans and love beads in my day. Eegads, did I just say that?) and it’s not even a rite of passage anymore. It’s just expected that when kids start to walk, they’ll know how to use a phone and an ipad.

    IF I had young ones now, I think I’d be looking at around age 12 – 14, but I really don’t know. That’s just a best guess. Cheers! Kaarina

    • Josh August 16, 2012 at 9:52 am

      @twitter-257025239:disqus 21 sounds good to me. My preference would be to make it for emergency purposes only but I don’t see that happening.

      My daughter says that we aren’t in the 80s any more and that everyone should have a cellphone. The logic of an 8 year-old isn’t all that different from a lot of older people I know.

      12-14 sounds reasonable to me, kind of weird to “say that out loud” but…

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