When does your child need a phone of their own?  If you are separated or divorced, who will cover this expense and what are the household rules regarding this new phone privilege and your child.  Will you be able to keep your child safe?

When I was a kid, the only phone in our house was affixed to the wall. I had no privacy, because the wall the phone was affixed to, was in the kitchen, right there, smack dab, in the middle of the house. Every conversation I had was censored by my parents.

Answering the phone in our house was a privilege. As I kid, I wasn’t allowed to answer the phone until I was a certain age and only after role playing with my parents,and knew the proper phone etiquette. My dad was a ‘telephone man’, he worked for Pacific Northwest Bell and phone manners were important. I recall there was a section in our home economic class devoted to phone manners as well.

Perhaps I am aging myself here with these reminisces, but today with a phone on every hip and in every purse, . . . what age is too young to have one?  What are the rules about usage and hours of usage.  Who is going to pay for the monthly cover and the over-use fees and downloads.  What about the security, Will my child be safe?

Aha! Parenting offers this information:

1. Don’t give your child a phone too early.
If your child is with a trusted adult, s/he shouldn’t need a cell phone. It’s when kids start to walk to school by themselves, or otherwise are without supervision, that they need a cell phone for safety reasons. The younger your child when s/he gets the cell phone, the more you’re asking of her or him, because it will just be harder for her or him to act responsibly with it. Can you trust that s/he’ll follow your rules about which apps to download, for instance?

2. Agree to rules, before that first cell phone.
Most parents think a “contract” with their child is unnecessary and silly. But a written agreement is a great way for your child to step into this new responsibility without you “over-parenting.” When that first cell phone comes with written rules and responsibilities in the form of a signed agreement, young people learn how to handle them responsibly. If you ask your kids what they think the rules should be, and negotiate until you’re happy, they will “own” those rules. For a starting place, check out the rules at the end of this article.

3. Scaffold.
You know how when a building goes up, there’s a framework around it? Once the building is complete, the scaffolding is unnecessary. Your job is to give your child support –like scaffolding — as he learns each new skill.
So don’t just buy a cell phone, give a lecture, and hope for the best. Instead, see this as a year-long project. In the beginning, plan to talk with your child every single night about his mobile use that day. Review with him what calls and texts came in and out, what apps he used. Ask how it felt to him to use his phone. Did it change anything in his life to have those calls and texts come in? Were there any challenges as he considered how to respond? When you see a mean text from one friend about another one, you’ll have the perfect opportunity to ask him about social dynamics, listen to the dilemmas he’s facing, and coach him about how to handle these challenges. Even once your kids have had a phone for awhile, I recommend that parents reserve the right to spot check their messages and texts occasionally without warning. Erased messages should be checked on the bill. This gets kids in the habit of being responsible, of because their phone use doesn’t feel so “invisible.”

4. Talk, and listen.
At the dinner table, comment on news stories that involve cell phones, from sexting to dangerous apps to driving deaths. Ask questions about what your child thinks, and listen more. You might find, for instance that your teen thinks sending nude selfies via Snapchat is fine because the photo will self-destruct. But does your child realize that the receiver can take a screenshot, and that there are now apparently ways to subvert the auto-notification that should tell the sender a copy has been made? And does your child know that having a photo of an underage person on his cell phone is illegal?

5. Role Play.
When a young person is faced with a new situation, how should he know what to do? Roleplays may be hokey, but they give your child a chance to think through the situation and his options. By planting those seeds, your child has more resources to act responsibly in the heat of the moment. I’ve been known to launch into parent-child roleplays about the topic of the day, pretending to be a friend asking, for instance, “Hey, send me that photo you took at the sleepover!” to help my child consider various responses.

6. Know your child.
The research shows that when kids have problems with technology of any kind, it’s because they’re having problems that go beyond technology, and those problems will show up in the rest of their life. So if your child is mostly responsible, considerate and happy, he or she is probably responsible with technology, too.


  • How do I keep my kids safe with cell phones?
  • How do I keep my kids safe with cell phones?
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