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Deciding the Right Age for Your Child’s First Cell Phone

child's first cell phone

In today’s ever-changing digital world, parents face the dilemma of deciding when to get their child’s first cell phone. 

There are many concerns about safety, responsibility, academic impact, and social considerations. So, it’s important for parents to carefully evaluate when their child is ready for a cell phone. 

When it comes to decisions like getting a cell phone, each individual family knows best. That said, we’ve checked in with Dr. Barbara Gablehouse, a retired pediatrician and member of our Board of Educators, to gather her advice on what parents can do in this digital age. 


The right age for your child’s first cell phone

Dr. Gablehouse explains that “there is not a right answer” to the right time for a child to have a phone. 

She strongly recommends that (at any age) when a child does receive a phone, “it should be one with a parental control feature.” She explains, “Limiting and monitoring participation in social media is particularly important. Cyberbullying has become an enormous emotional problem for many kids.”


child with walkie talkie


Preschoolers and early elementary (3-7 years)

For preschoolers and early elementary-aged children, delaying a child’s first cell phone is often recommended. 

At this stage, children are still developing their cognitive, emotional, and social skills, and spending too much time on screens may hinder their development. 


Late elementary and middle school (8-12 years)

Late elementary and middle school-aged children may start expressing interest in having their own cellphone. At this stage, parents should consider the child’s level of maturity, responsibility, and digital literacy before making a decision. 

Cell phones can provide convenience regarding communication, coordination, and access to information for academic purposes. 

However, parents should set clear rules and guidelines for cellphone use, including managing screen time, setting parental controls, and discussing online safety. 


High school and beyond (13+ years)

In high school and beyond, most children have reached a level of maturity and responsibility that may make them eligible for cell phone ownership. By this age, they may need a cell phone for various purposes, such as staying connected with family and friends, managing schedules and assignments, and accessing educational resources. 

However, parents should continue to monitor and guide their child’s cell phone use, including discussing responsible online behavior, digital citizenship, and the importance of balancing screen time with other activities. 


child with smart watch


4 communication alternatives to cell phones 

It’s possible to provide a means of communication with children when they are away from you—without needing to give your child a cell phone! 


1. Smartwatches

There are smartwatches specifically designed for kids that come with basic call and messaging features. 

These smartwatches usually have a limited contact list that parents can pre-set, allowing kids to make calls or send messages to approved contacts. 

Some smartwatches also come with GPS tracking capabilities, enabling parents to keep track of their child’s location.


2. GPS trackers

GPS trackers are small devices that can be attached to a child’s belongings, such as their backpack or clothing. 

These trackers allow parents to keep tabs on their child’s whereabouts in real time through a smartphone app. Some GPS trackers also come with an SOS button that kids can press in an emergency.


3. Two-way radios or walkie-talkies

Two-way radios or walkie-talkies can be a fun and practical way for kids to communicate with their peers or parents within a short range, such as within a neighborhood or during outdoor adventures. 

They do not require any cellular network or internet connection, making them a safe and reliable option for young kids. Plus, they’re really fun to use! 


4. Home phone or landline

If your child spends a significant amount of time at home, having a home phone or landline can be a practical way for them to communicate with family members or emergency services. 

Home phones or landlines do not come with the same risks and distractions as smartphones, and parents can monitor and control their child’s usage.


boy on landline phone


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Parents, what are your thoughts on first cell phones for kids?

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